(recently edited and reposted with an additional 760 words)
Kim sighed in frustration, anxious to go home. She could hear the quartet of male teenagers over by the 18th green. They were taking their sweet time and she was beginning to wonder how long it was going to be before they finished with that damn hole. All they had to do was putt the stupid ball – either it went into the center hole for a hole-in-one or it didn’t.
She hoped they weren’t messing around with the tank. But they were all about 13 or 14 years old and acting like a pack of wild animals. She wasn’t all that certain she wanted to go over and hurry them along… not that they would do anything to her. She could certainly take care of herself although there was no point in tempting fate.
She checked the clock on the wall and noted it was 11:05 pm: five minutes after closing time. Kim decided to make a quick sweep of the miniature golf course, picking up the trash along the way. That was she could approach them from the other side of the course and see what they were up to. If they were still there then she would kick them out.
Kim locked up her little shack before heading off to the first hole with an empty garbage sack in her hands. ‘What a miserable day!’ she told herself, shaking her head in disgust. She was glad it was almost over.
First she’d gotten a flat tire on the way over to the course and had been late for work. Then her grandma and grandpa – God bless ’em – had tried AGAIN to talk her into putting on a mermaid costume for the tank that bordered the 17th and 18th putting greens. After all, they knew she liked the water anyway so what harm would it do?
Once more they’d told her it would be good for business. And once more she’d politely turned them down. She just didn’t want to be ogled by teenagers with raging hormones, certainly not for no minimum wage anyway.
With its pirate theme the golf course had done well in its hey-day. Originally there had been many willing young females who’d been hired for a few extra bucks to put on a costume and swim around in the tank. But the times were changing.
For starters there were more businesses cutting into the pool of available young women willing to get their hair wet. Besides, there was a dwindling number of eligible young men who still found playing mini-golf a worthwhile activity. Now there were fewer and fewer who were even willing to put on a mermaid tail and play in the tank for what her grandparents could afford to pay them. Besides, it usually didn’t take long before they got tired of going up and down in the water and being gawked at like some circus side-show freak. Usually they only lasted about three or four weeks before they became quite unhappy and quit over the jeers and lewd remarks.
Kim had discovered most of them couldn’t hold their breath worth a damn in the first place. Out of curiosity she had found ways to time each mermaid she’d seen in the tank. That’s when she’d learned she could outlast nearly all of them, sometimes by as much as 40 to 50 seconds.
There were a couple of girls who’d barely been able to do half a minute, each of whom had quit within a week of being hired. As a result, her grandparents hadn’t found a new mermaid for the last month and a half, another reason why they kept asking her to put on the tail and spend some time in the tank. Business had eventually dropped off significantly without the signature mermaid in the tank for the 17th and 18th holes.
They’d pleaded their case with her of course, but Kim had remained adamant. As a 19 year old, she wasn’t about to put on a stupid tail and cavort around in the tank while young boys gawked at her, not for no minimum wage anyway. She understood they couldn’t afford to pay more. But she was willing to come in to work and man the cash register. She was also willing to crawl into the tank and clean the glass every now and then… even swim down and pick up the stray golf ball that spilled out of the bucket at the bottom of the tank. Why couldn’t they just be happy with THAT?
She dumped a small can of trash into her garbage sack before moving on to the next hole. But when she rounded a corner she saw a Cheetos spill on the 6th green. The orange snack food dusted the green around the hole.
Kim rolled her eyes in disgust, suspecting it was that quartet of adolescents. ‘Probably spilled ’em and then decided to leave ’em for me to clean up,’ she thought unhappily. That meant she would have to go back, get the dust buster and then vacuum the green before she left.
She stomped her way through the front nine before pausing to look at the tenth hole. She would have to remember to tell her grandpa the drawbridge wasn’t working right. Earlier today several balls had ended up in the stream running underneath it, causing several golfers to come back to the shack and request replacements. The place was really starting to need some fixing up.
She moved on, emptying the trash from the cans on every hole. When she reached the 14th green she emptied that can as well before coming around the mound and heading back toward the finishing holes. But as soon as the tank came into view she saw one of the boys suddenly look up rather suspiciously in her direction…
“Crap! She’s coming this way! Let’s get out of here!”
Kim saw four male teenagers suddenly stand up at the 18th hole. Two of them dropped their putters as they all made a mad dash toward the shack and the exit beyond. “HEY?!” she yelled instinctively. But that only seemed to spur them to go faster.
“RUN!!” one of them yelled. A moment later they were through the gate and had reached the bike rack. Soon they were pedaling their bicycles away from the course just as fast as they could go.
Kim watched them go before frowning uneasily. Having them rush off like that was not a good sign at all. It made her wonder what they had done to make such a hasty retreat.
She headed toward the 18th hole, an uneasy feeling in the pit of her stomach. ‘Stupid kids!’ she thought angrily. If it wasn’t for the fact that her grandparents really needed her help she would have chucked the whole thing and found another job by now.
She walked up to the tank expecting the worst… and wasn’t the least bit disappointed. Two putters lay at the bottom of the ten foot deep glassed-in enclosure. Several balls were scattered along the floor of the tank, indicating they’d been thrown in rather than dropping through the 18th green’s plumbing. To make matters worse, she could see the ropes to the pulley system that pulled both the bucket and the treasure chest up and down now lay in loose coils on the bottom of the tank. It was the perfect ending to a perfectly miserable day!
“Damn!” she muttered in disgust. She’d put on her swimsuit under her clothes on the off-chance she might be forced to get wet. Now that decision had been made for her. There was no way her grandparents were going to get into the tank to fix the pulley system, much less retrieve the balls and clubs! She would have to do it herself before she went home.
Kim sighed in resignation as she walked back to the shack and over to the exit. She closed the gate and padlocked it, unwilling to allow anyone to come in and surprise her while she made her underwater repairs. Then she stopped in front of the shack where she was hidden from the street.
She sighed again as she slipped out of her t-shirt and jeans, revealing a slightly faded black bikini she’d been wearing underneath. The top showed some serious cleavage from her 36 C’s while the bottoms were tied together in a bow on both hips with a string. “Guess I’m getting wet!” she muttered to herself. Oh well, a cool dip wouldn’t be so bad were it not for all those balls she would have to retrieve.
Kim suddenly remembered she’d left her apartment without bringing a towel along. She cursed under her breath, considering what might be in the shack she could use. But there was nothing available other than the rags she used for cleaning the glass of the tank. She’d taken all the towels out of her car and had washed them without remembering to stash a couple of dry ones back into the back seat of her vehicle.
“Great – just great!” she muttered irritably, throwing her hands up in disgust. “Now I’m going to have to drip-dry while driving home. What ELSE can go wrong?!”
She sighed again as she slipped out of her sneakers and socks. Then she walked back to the tank connecting the 17th and 18th greens, shaking her head in disgust. This was going to take some time for sure!
She opened the gate that gave employees admission to the top of the tank. Then looked down in dismay. The bastards had untied the ropes to the buckets and pulleys all right. She would need to hook everything back up just to get the ball retrieval system working again.
Kim had mentioned to her grandparents on more than on occasion that they should rig up another system to retrieve the balls from the bottom of the tank. But they had continued to drag their feet, believing that once they were able to hire another mermaid that particular girl would be responsible for bringing the balls up at the end of the day. Until then that job had fallen to her, especially since the ropes were getting worn and were sometimes slipping out of their knots.
This wouldn’t be the first time she’d had to make repairs, although this mess looked really bad. Next time she saw those boys she decided she was going to refuse them entrance! Then she shrugged her shoulders, deciding she might as well get started. After all, those golf balls weren’t coming back up by themselves. And without a dive mask she would have to do this with blurry vision.
Kim took a deep breath and then casually stepped off the edge of the tank, dropping into the cool water with a splash. Air bubbles streamed all around her as she dropped straight down until she felt her feet touch bottom. The shock of cool water on her system nearly made her gasp for breath as her nipples stiffened under her bikini top.
She burbled as she bent over, quickly pulling herself forward until she reached the two wayward putters. She took a quick glance out through the glass of the tank to make sure those teen bastards hadn’t returned to gawk at her. Then she scooped them up in one hand and kicked upward, blowing air out of her nose until she burst up at the surface.
Kim swam over to the edge of the tank where she tossed the two putters out onto the ground out of her way. There… that part was done! Now she had to work on the balls and that aging pulley system.
Kim took another deep breath before diving back down. This time she focused on gathering up all the loose golf balls. She quickly reached the bottom, grabbed the edge of the bucket to counter her buoyancy and then began scooping up the balls in the immediate vicinity.
It wasn’t long before she’d gotten everything within arm’s length. The rest were out of reach. But instead of surfacing for another breath Kim burbled as she kicked herself away from the bucket, determined to snatch up what she could before she had to surface.
She swam out toward the farthest reaches of the tank to collect the balls furthest away. She didn’t mind being underwater so much, but tonight she was frustrated with the way the day had gone. She didn’t want to hang around the shack any longer than was necessary, considering there was still that Cheetos spill on number six she had to vacuum up. Thinking about it only inflamed her anger; she could feel herself becoming more irritated by the minute.
She gathered up a handful of balls and then kicked back over toward the bucket, bubbling air out of her nose as she dumped them inside. She opted not to put them into the treasure chest, saving that task for later. She simply wanted to corral all the loose balls first.
She felt her lungs begin to burn with need as her chest heaved gently. But she shrugged it off as she turned and headed off to round up the rest of the multi-colored balls. She wanted to get this over with as quickly as possible. Besides, she was certain she could hold her breath long enough to gather them all up.
The tank wasn’t all that big; it was only about twenty feet across. Everything was well within reach; she didn’t have to swim around all that much. It was just a matter of gathering them all up and then dumping them into the bucket.
There was plenty of room to maneuver; all the extra features of the tank had been removed about four weeks ago. In fact, SHE was the one who’d gotten wet long enough to pull everything out – the small pirate ship, the anchor on the one wall, the statue of the mermaid. Her grandparents had asked her to remove everything when they’d lost their last mermaid for fear of the stuff getting stolen. As a result it pretty much left the tank rather bare except for the treasure chest which caught the “hole-in-one” balls, that and the bucket along the wall which was supposed to catch the loose ones.
She burbled as she snatched up the remaining golf balls and then hauled them back over to the bucket. There; that much was done! She could head up for a breath and then come back down.
She felt her lungs heave and was about to surface when she saw there were a few balls in the treasure chest from the several hole-in-ones that had been made earlier in the day. It occurred to her that if she took them out and put everything into the bucket, she wouldn’t have to bring the treasure chest up at all. As her lungs began to heave she quickly began pulling balls out of the chest and tossing them into the bucket.
With her lung sheaving she tossed the last one in the direction of the bucket. When it rattled home Kim kicked off the bottom and headed for the surface. Her lungs were heaving; she’d really pushed this one!
She burst up to the surface and gasped wildly for breath, her heart pounding in her chest. She moved over to the edge and clung to it as she got her breath back, certain she’d been down close to a minute and a half at least. What’s more, all the balls had been collected and dumped into the bucket!
“Let’s see any of those wimpy mermaids beat THAT!” she panted aloud, imagining some other girl handling the task she’d just undertaken. She could easily imagine how some of them would probably have come up two or three times to get air just to gather up all the loose golf balls and dump them into the bucket… and here she’d done it all in one breath!
Kim looked down at her next project, only to feel her anger return as she studied the coils of rope lying on the bottom. “Stupid kids!” she muttered to herself, mentally calculating how she would have to repair the two pulley systems.
When she’d been gathering the golf balls she’d noticed the ropes had been removed from both the treasure chest and the bucket. They had also been unthreaded from the pulley systems and then deliberately discarded into the tank. She would have to rethread the pulleys and then restring the ropes through each layout. Kim sighed, angrily shaking her head while cursing those damned teens under her breath again.
The hole had been cleverly designed so that if a hole-in-one had been achieved the ball would roll through a pipe under the green and drop into the water into a thin, filmy cylindrical net that channeled it to the waiting treasure chest below. To be emptied, the chest was pulled up out of the water by a pulley system and then swung over to the side of the tank using an extra rope and extension. When Kim had first seen it a couple of years ago she’d thought it was pretty cool. Now it was nothing more than a pain in the ass.
The bucket was a little better, but not much. It sat at the bottom of the tank next to the wall, a pulley bracket allowing it to slide up and down a long metal pipe attached to the wall to help facilitate it’s up and down movements. The rest of the balls were channeled to the edge of the green where they dropped through a hole and swirled down to the bucket below. To pull it up and empty the contents, all one had to do was pull on the end of the rope sticking out of the pulley and it came right up. Only now…
Kim sighed in disgust, deciding there was no use putting it off. She took a deep breath and then dove downward, burbling as she swam for the bucket first. She found the end to the rope, pulled it free and then swam back up with it.
She came up gasping quietly, pausing to catch her breath. She had to reach up to snag the first pulley, but she managed to thread the rope through. Then she took another deep breath before swimming back down with the end in her hand.
There was a bottom pulley attached to the floor near the wall. A three pulley system had been set up in case the bucket and chest got a little heavy from a lot of balls. Kim reached over and threaded it through as a little air dribbled out of her nose.
She was about to swim up to the swing pulley – the one that pulled the treasure chest over to the side and helped bring the big bucket up – when she glanced at the bucket. She realized she should probably tie the other end to it first before taking the slack out. So Kim knelt on the bottom of the tank, adjusted her position as she began sorting through the coils, trying to find the other end.
The place was a mess; there were loose coils of rope everywhere. But she finally tracked it down. Then she began tying it to the wooden grip of the bucket’s wire handle that folded off to one side.
She felt that first undulation in her chest, indicating she needed another breath soon. But she ignored it as she often did when she wanted to stay down a little longer to complete a task. She wanted to get as much of the task done as possible before resurfacing. Besides, that Cheetos mess was beckoning to her.
‘Gram and Gramps really need to do something about this stupid system,’ she thought disgustedly. How many times had she been forced to make the swim to fix it? More than she could count right now… and it was getting late.
Kim released a little air out of her nose to relieve the growing pressure in her chest as she struggled to make a decent knot. The end was fraying; she probably needed to fetch a knife and trim it off. But she was in a hurry now; she just wanted to get all this done so she could get back to her apartment.
She’d just started to redo the knot again when she found herself drifting upward. Instinctively she stuck her foot into the mess of rope, wedging her leg in the area between the bucket and the wall. She didn’t want to go up just yet; even though she really needed another breath she wanted to finish this first.
Kim burbled as she worked the knot again. ‘Stupid rope,’ she thought in frustration. ‘Stupid pulley system; stupid kids; stupid golf course! Why do I keep working here? I hope Gram and Gramps appreciate all the hard work I put in for them here. They really do need to fix this place up!’
A moment later she regretted her angry thoughts. They were only doing their best to make ends meet. She needed to be more appreciative they were only trying to help her out as best they could by paying her for working there.
Kim angrily tossed the frayed end aside before turning her attention toward the chest. She found the end to the thinner rope and began tying it to the handle as her lungs began to burn. She really did need to go back up for another breath!
‘Yeah – yeah; in a minute!’ she told herself. ‘Let me get this one thing done first! I’ve got a couple seconds to spare!’
At least those creeps hadn’t unhooked the netting from the damned thing. She’d probably interrupted them before they could mess with that as well. Actually she’d tied the net rather well the last time it had worked loose; apparently they hadn’t had time to get it off before she had showed up and spooked them off. At least that had turned out well… one positive out of what was turning out to be a really lousy day.
Kim burbled as she tied off the rope to the handle. Then she gave it a good tug, smiling with satisfaction. ‘There; that should do… until the next time the damned thing comes loose!’ She actually thought the tank was pretty cool. But now she was thinking they would be better off just filling it up with dirt and avoiding the maintenance hassles, especially if they couldn’t pay for a good mermaid to swim around in there anymore
She felt her lungs heave in growing protest; it really was time to go. But Kim was in a hurry now, and she stretched back toward the stubborn bucket, determined to tie the damned thing off so she could get both ropes threaded through the pulleys above. She realized she should have hauled both ropes up to the first pulley instead of just the one. That’s when she chided herself for being so short-sighted.
As she started to drift up she stuck her foot in between the bucket and the wall again in an attempt to stay down, making sure she’d thrust it through several coils in the process just to keep herself down. She’d snagged some rope with her foot earlier. But she’d slipped right out of it easily enough when she’d focused on the treasure chest and it just wasn’t a big deal. Besides, the more help she got in staying down the better.
She found the end again and began tying it off, burbling angrily at the fraying end. She found herself mentally complaining that her grandparents really needed to break down and buy a new rope. Her chest heaved in protest, her lungs really beginning to burn now, but she thought she was almost done.
None of the other mermaids could have stayed down long enough to do what she was doing: hold their breath long enough to stay down and fix the ball retrieval system like she was doing. Hell, they would just go down, smile and wave and little, and then come back up after only a few seconds. Now if her grandparents could afford to pay her a whole lot more? Maybe – just maybe – she might give it some consideration…
…and then it was tied off!
Kim’s lungs were on fire. But she was really pushing it now by wanting to find the loose end to the treasure chest and haul it up too. She was frustrated and she was probably pushing things a little longer than was necessary.
It didn’t take long to track down the other loose end. Kim began pulling it through the coils, only to discover it was really becoming snarled with the rest of the rope. ‘Crap, I should’ve pulled the one entire length all the way out and threaded it through by itself! Damn; now I’ve probably got my ropes crossed! This is such a fucked up system anyway! I don’t know why Gram and Gramps had to invest in some stupid miniature golf course!’
Her chest heaved in protest, her lungs demanding to be replenished. Kim decided it was time to go back up. But now she was thoroughly disgusted with herself!
In her rush she’d failed to separate both ropes. She’d also failed to haul both ends up to thread through the first pulley. She angrily realized she was going to be forced to pull the bucket rope back down to unsnarl everything.
‘Those stupid kids – it’s all their fault!’ she bitterly as she released more bubbles out of her nose to ease the pressure in her chest. If they would’ve left everything alone and not spilled those stupid Cheetos on the sixth hole, she’d be on her way to her apartment by now. What a miserable day this had turned out to be.
Tossing the ends away and giving up in disgust, she pulled away from where she’d wedged her foot between the bucket and wall, kicking upward while pulling with her arms. Almost immediately Kim jerked to a halt less than a foot and a half off the floor of the tank, grunting in surprise as she lost a burst of bubbles. She looked down to identify the problem, only to discover the rope had NOT slid off her ankle like before!
What the hell??!!
She burbled angrily, pissed off that she hadn’t been more careful. But deep down she could feel that jolt of alarm settling in her stomach as her lungs heaved ominously. She reached down and tried to slide the snarl off her ankle, only to discover it wouldn’t come free.
What had she done wrong? By pulling on the end that led to the treasure chest and yanking on it in disgust, she’d inadvertently snarled it around her ankle. Then when she’d kicked upward and jerked to a stop, she’d only tightened it further!
Kim frantically worked to wriggle her fingers under the nylon around her ankle. She had to get it off right this second! Then her chest heaved mightily as she became all too painfully aware of the inferno raging in her lungs.
Kim’s eyes widened in growing horror as she realized how out of breath she was. She’d pushed herself too hard, stayed under too long by inwardly competing with some stupid minimum wage mermaid her folks had a tendency to hire. Now she spasmed hard, grunting in growing panic as her lungs cried out to be replenished.
Instinctively she began pulling hard for the surface, desperate for her next breath despite the entangled ankle. She managed to rise up another six inches but no more. All she’d accomplished was constricting the rope even tighter around her ankle, snagging her more forcefully.
For a brief moment Kim tried to calm herself down, tried to fight down the rising panic. She told herself she had to get the rope off her ankle, and she tried bending down and tugging on it. But still it wouldn’t come free; it was even more snugly wrapped around her foot.
At that moment her chest heaved painfully as her lungs screamed at her, demanding to be refilled. Kim instinctively tried to shoot upward in a panic, jerking up against the rope that tethered her to the floor of the tank. She flailed with her arms, pulling in vain just as hard as she could as her mind screamed at her to get to the surface right away.
Bubbles spewed out past her pursed lips, causing her to instinctively cover her mouth with her hand as her mind screamed in desperation. She knew she was going to inhale any second, and she grunted as she kept trying to jerk her ankle free. Her cheeks bulged as more bubbles spewed out of her nose and out around the fingers covering her mouth. Then she gurgled as her lungs finally gave out, unable to hold her breath any longer…
Kim’s chest heaved and she coughed and grunted. She swallowed water, coughed it back up… inhaled water down her windpipe. Then she began convulsing, her body jerking and spasming as little bursts of bubbles were forced out past her parted lips.
Instinctively she stretched upward for the surface, clawing desperately with her arms. But her ankle remained securely tethered by the rope to the bucket below. She gurgled again, flailed weakly for the surface… tried to scream for help. But all that came out was another gurgle as air dribbled out past her parted lips.
She spasmed painfully, her body rebelling against the infusion of liquid into her lungs. Then her muscles stopped functioning as she hung tethered by the rope to the bottom of the tank. She went completely limp, staring in disbelief up at a light on a lamp post illuminating a section of the miniature golf course.
She blinked in surprise at the situation she found herself in. Her muscles twitched from stray nerve impulses as her arms began to settle to her sides, hanging uselessly. It suddenly occurred to her that as much as she’d fought not to become a mermaid, she was now truly about to become one by becoming a permanent resident in the tank.
‘What a perfect ending to a miserable day!’ she thought as darkness closed in all around her. A moment later she let out a gurgly sigh as the rest of her life dribbled out of her body in a tiny stream of bubbles. Her eyes glazed over as she began to gently sway back and forth in the tank, her dirty blonde hair drifting lazily about her face. The golf course’s night lighting reflected off her body in the tank, making her appear to be some sort of siren from the deep.
It would be that very image the security guard would come across two hours later when he crawled over the fence to investigate why all the lights were still on and a vehicle was still in the parking lot…
© 2006; 2016 (inspired by – and written for – JQpublic Aug 8 ’06; ed. Feb 20 ‘16 by riwa)