Just one more he says. I rub my eyes and launch myself again. The waves lap against my side and my muscles ache in Spartan surrender. My personal best is so close.
I hear him scream and through red water I drill forward. My breath rattles in my lungs like a rock in a colander. Don't stop though, don't ever stop until I reach the target. So close now, so close to something special.
My arms are so heavy. The last stroke never arrives. Instead, I descend to the deep where I hide from coach's complaints about being a loser. I'm breathing somehow and about me, angel fish flicker left and right in a shiny shoal of iridescent light. I'm guessing this is death. I hear trumpets, divine music and below a golden light calls out to me.
Down I go, ever down. I know my lungs have long since lost their power. I float onto a cobbled path and stand despite being so far from the surface. Everything about me is so clear, a stingray flies past my left ear and lets me stroke his left flank and he rumbles in happiness at my touch.
I exhale a flotilla of bubbles and ahead a great castle awaits me with a drawbridge slowly descending. My fatigue has been usurped and I am drawn to this wizard's palace. Step by step I advance to this blessed bastion and a girl bathed in flowing white robes beckons to me.
"He is waiting for you, quick, up the stairs," she says.
I take a grey mantle and the warmth envelops me in a cocoon of care. I am inside and the lady orders for the bridge to be raised. I ascend in moments, I am in a throne room with a man dressed in golden armor waiting for me. Great wings spray out from his back, he stands and embraces me when I am close.
"Stephen, I am so glad you have come. You have had a most wonderful life and now my friend, you can take a well earned rest. You have worked so hard."
I stare at him in confusion.
"I'm sorry, you're mistaken. My name's Nathan."
My host draws back, scratches his chin.
"That can't be right. You are Stephen Hope. I have no record of a Nathan."
"Stephen? Oh no, he couldn't come today, he felt a bit under the weather. Is there a problem?"
The armored figure claps his hands together. Immediately five winged young Amazons arrive at his side.
"This man needs to go back. He shouldn't be here."
I protest. I want to stay but the girls soothe me with their touch. I rise away from this perfect paradise. I feel my lungs burn and my arms reach out to find the touch of a pair of heavy arms lifting me up.
"You did it, you got your personal best. I'm so proud of you Nathan," roars my coach.
I can't speak. I'm so exhausted. He throws a towel over my shattered body.
"That's better, don't want you to catch your death of cold. It's just a shame Stephen wasn't here. Your training partner would be so pleased."
I nod, look out to the sea and witness a golden ocean shimmer beneath me. I hope Stephen doesn't swim tomorrow. In fact, I hope he never takes to the water ever again.
Gary Hewitt is a raconteur who lives in a quaint little village in Kent. He has had over 80 short stories and poems published and has performed to several live audiences. He enjoys writing prose and poetry. His style of writing tends to feature edgy characters. Some of his influences are James Herbert, Stephen King, Bulgakov, and Tolkein to name a few. He is also a proud member of the Hazlitt Arts Centre Writers Group in Maidstone which features an eclectic group of very talented writers. He has a website featuring his published works here: http://kingsraconteurswork.blogspot.co.uk/