Johnny shut his eyes. He was a migraine sufferer, and there were wavy blue lines of electricity on the inside of his eyelids as well as in the outer world. His head felt as if an octopus was clinging to the back of it; white tentacles wound tightly around his skull, crushing it inwards so that it began to collapse in on itself, winding its arms through his brain. Occasionally, it relaxed its suckers, and the pain relented. But it was a false dawn, because he needed to stay tensed against the next awful onslaught, which was never long in coming.
His bedroom light was off, because the bulb made the air it illuminated too intense. His jeans lay in the murky air beside his bed. Outside the window, the sky was as pink as a tropical sunset. He wished he’d pulled the curtains, but waves of nausea prevented him from doing so. The headache would get him out of PD in the morning, but Johnny would have preferred PD to the headache.
Surprizingly, he slept, and when he woke the pain was gone. It was PD after all. Three hundred hours of Community Service, and he was already down to two hundred and ninety six. Having a car accident while he was drunk had given Johnny a shock. He’d never been unconscious before. He thought that might have been what had triggered this new round of headaches. He was still a bit hazy about what had happened. All he remembered was waking to cold searching beams of light, unable to comprehend the shape of the car smashed against the concrete curve of the water reservoir.
His alarm clock was screaming blue murder beside his bed, and he reached out his hand to tug the cord from the wall. Being winter, it was still dark inside the room, but outside the sky was bald and white. In his dreams he had been falling. His science teacher had told them that if you were falling in your dreams and you hit the ground, then you would be dead in the waking world. Because of the shock. Johnny wished he didn’t know this, because it meant that sleep left him with feelings of dread that stayed with him till he woke again.
He wasn’t sure why the judge had specified that he and Craig do PD in the morgue. Just an old person trying to teach them a lesson, he supposed. There was no actual daylight down there, and nothing to show that it was a bright Saturday outside. Because it was the weekend, they were there by themselves. The PD supervisor who had let them in left as quickly as possible, and told them to text when they knocked off, so that he could come back and lock up. Johnny really couldn’t blame him.
He and Craig began to hose down the concrete. Johnny was glad of his big white gumboots. The floor beneath his feet looked wet and clammy, like a membrane that was sweating. He licked the skin around his lips and found it salty. “It’s all good,” said Craig. “We’ll do a little bit, and then we’ll sit down and have a drink. Freak ourselves out, get drunk in the morgue.” On Johnny’s left, there was a concrete sluice, just longer than a body. It was used for disinfecting them after the surface of the skin had been inspected for cuts and bruises. The blue water was so dark it was knocking on black’s door. Johnny thought he could see a shape below the surface, but the harder he tried to concentrate on it, the more he was less sure that there was anything there at all.
There were white bins full of briny water; full of brains and kidneys and intestines, waiting for disposal, floating on the surface like clammy tentacles. Johnny’s headache from the previous night was beginning to build up again, like a coil being wound more and more tightly. Soon it would hurt. The blue lights were beginning to flicker softly in the back of his skull.
He and Craig walked down unending corridors of lockers, lit by subtle pink lighting. Darkness lay in wait underneath the rosy tint of the damp air. Scratchy ukulele music played in the background. There was a radio, but it never seemed to be on the station properly. Craig liked to open the lockers and look at the bodies. “Check this one,” he said to Johnny. “Locker 140K.” Johnny didn’t want to, but he made himself, because he didn’t want to drop his balls in front of Craig. It was empty. “That made you shit,” said Craig. The internal darkness of the empty locker was so dense that it made Johnny feel as if it was pulling him in, like a black hole. His teacher had told him that a black hole could pull whole suns inside itself, compressing them to the size of a pinhead.
He and Craig sat by the sluice pool. They were sipping Blue Lagoons decorated with cocktail umbrellas and small pink plastic mermaids that lounged around the rim of the glass. Craig had raided his mother’s liquor cabinet. Johnny’s headache began to subside, and after a few of these, he began to feel woozy. They leaned back in the navy striped deck chairs Craig had found. The pool was in front of them was smooth and dark. All they needed now was a sunset and fluffy pink clouds. Johnny leaned a little too far back in his chair, and his stomach lurched. He did not want to fall.
Craig stripped off, his naked body glowing in the soft pink light from the lights on the walls behind them. The points of his elbows echoed the tip of his nose. The pool seemed bigger now, and it was difficult to see the other side. Craig dived in, and began to do sidestroke. He was mirrored by his reflection from head to torso, with no bottom half. Johnny sipped on his next Blue Lagoon. Craig’s arms began to thrash, making a splashy froth that surrounded his upper body. Something was pulling him under the surface and into the water, like a sun into a black hole. The froth of bubbles got smaller, until it was perfectly calm again.
Johnny was pleased. He thought he might have had to take Craig to locker 140K, but it seemed that it wasn’t for Craig, because Craig was no longer there. He could keep relaxing and drinking Blue Lagoons. Black moonlight tinged palm trees rustled softly out of sight. There was time for another drink, bright blue and radiant in the glass. The water lapped at the edge of the pool, not far from Johnny’s toes. It was very pleasant, sitting there sipping. The cockroaches stomped past, carrying their black backs like shields. Security. Things were out of, yet under control.
He got up and got one of the rectangular metal trolleys, pushing it through the corridors, certain that he had a purpose, but not sure what it was. The ukulele music got faster and faster as he got closer to locker 140K. But the closer he got, the longer it took to get there. When he finally did, he found that Craig had left the locker open. Johnny was relieved to see that it was still empty. He hadn’t been sure of what he might find. He pushed it closed. There was a name on it. Same name as his. Random.
He needed a piss. So he climbed, his electric blue Blue Lagoon still in one hand, up the ladder to where the toilets were. The ladder was rickety, and he had to concentrate, given that he’d already had a bit to drink, and he could only use one arm. At the top of the platform, he realized that he had come, not to a urinal, but to a diving board. And he was already prepared, because he found that he was naked. He put his drink down on the blue foam mat near the far edge. He couldn’t possibly dive with a drink in his hand.
Johnny stood at the top end of the concrete diving board. The pool was a long way below, like a blue lagoon of its own, receding second by second. The light from a pink sun glowed in the distance. He curled his toes over the edge, and placed his palms together, like a downward prayer. He knew he had to dive. Spot lights on the bottom of the board reached down towards the pool below, illuminating the ring of blue and white striped deckchairs arranged around its perimeter. A second, and a third ring of chairs circled the first one. The water was now the size of a child’s paddling pool. It was like looking downwards through the wrong end of a telescope.
He wasn’t even conscious of the moment of separation. His first noticing was of his body arcing through the air, as if it was a trajectory that had already been drawn. It lasted forever, and he had many idle thoughts. Then he was plunging head first, his feet hardly able to keep up with his brain. He felt a queasy sickness churning in his skull. The dark blue of the water was rushing towards him in slow motion, if such a thing was possible. He was unable to orientate his body to his viewing angle, and everything was simultaneously upside down and right way up. He remembered his old teacher, and how he had said that if you were falling in your dreams and you hit the ground, you died.
Johnny looked down again, or up. The black shadow of the octopus was moving just below the surface of the water. One white tentacle, studded with suction cups, emerged to test the air. Then another rose up, holding a black disk with a small loop in the centre. A plug. The water began to recede, spinning into a vortex at the bottom of the pool, pulling the head of the octopus down with it by the force of its suction. Maybe it would become as compact and energy dense as a white sun in a black hole the size of a pinhead. The last of the water drained away, and eventually every drop was gone. The octopus’s legs waved with a frantic grace as they began to slip down the plughole after its head.
Now Johnny could see the bottom of the pool. It was shabby and chipped, and it needed repainting. His teacher might have been right about falling in your dreams, he thought. His head hit the bottom. Blood and tissue exploded everywhere, staining small chips of his bone pink.
The pathologist doing the autopsy shook his head as Johnny’s body was lifted onto the concrete slab. “Shit,” he said. “Young drink drivers. They just don’t get what’s going to happen when they smash up against something else.” And he started washing him down .