She was gone in a flash of her silver tail. Todd floated, unmoving, haunted by her wide silver eyes that seemed to simultaneously move him and see right through him. There was no way that she could be real. Merely a near-death experience. And yet he was still inhaling water.
Todd breathed it in, fascinated by how heavy the saltwater felt in his chest. He breathed it out again, emptying his lungs completely. When he inhaled again, it caught in his throat. Todd choked and hiccuped, then began to cough uncontrollably.
Air. His lungs craved air. He kicked to the surface, immediately bombarded by sounds, light, and smells. Todd coughed and coughed until his lungs burned and started spraying droplets of blood. By the time he could breathe again, his legs were tired of thrashing and treading water. He could see the shore, a rocky coast with white waves striking the stones, but it was miles away. Todd tried to swim, kicking and clawing his way against the tide, but his efforts were futile and land seemed farther away than ever. He gulped constantly at the fresh open air, but it would not satisfy his hungry lungs. His gasps made an awful rasping sound. The sun beat down on his head, and the reflection off the waves scalded his dry eyes.
He didn't know where he was. The oil rig was nowhere in sight, and the coast looked unfamiliar and ultimately uninhabited.
There was nothing. Nothing but a man wearing a ripped t-shirt and jeans, surrounded by water that he couldn't drink, taunted by a shoreline that he would never reach. Todd unzipped his jeans and let them sink, relieved by how much lighter he was without them. Why hadn't he thought of that before? He kicked off his shoes and socks too. The thought occurred to him that if he ever got to land, he might want to be wearing shoes, but it didn't seem like a priority at this point. He swam a bit farther, and the coast looked a little closer, but he knew it probably wasn't. His breathing was fast and painful. His heart pounded hard against his chest. He had already once escaped a watery death, and to give up now seemed wrong.
"Help me," he croaked, barely more than a grunt. He didn't even have the strength to try again.
His head slipped under. He kicked and bobbed back up, sputtering and coughing more blood. The air was so dry and painful to breathe.
Suddenly a hand grabbed his ankle and pulled him down. Todd kicked and screamed, his shoeless foot making contact with cold, soft flesh. The hand let go of his ankle and grabbed for his arms, holding them tightly. More hands pressed against his chest. He saw a flash of green-gold scales before the world turned black once more.