We filed slowly out of the locker rooms, all changed into our bathing suits. It was midwinter, but the state mandated that all students participate in exercise. This was because exercise is supposed to alleviate depression, or a form of it that greatly affected us Norwegians, called Seasonal Affective Disorder. Which basically means that you get sad in the wintertime. And we had a lot of winter.
Exercise never did much for me, though. It just pointed out that I would never swim or run or lift weights like the athletes in the class, and that didn't do my competitive streak any good.
I sighed as I glanced up at the ever-running school TVs. No new news on the recent Oslo massacres, besides the name of the shooter - Anders Behring Breivik. I looked down from the TV to see a skinny little redhead watching me. She glanced away quickly. Weird.
We trotted down to the indoor pool to swim laps. Lining up at the diving board, I was second in line behind the little redhead. It wasn't cold inside, but she appeared to be shivering. The instructor motioned for her to step onto the diving board, and the girl twisted to look behind her. As she caught my eye, I realised she wasn't shaking because she was cold. She was shaking because she was terrified.
Nobody who was that afraid of anything should be forced to confront it like this unless it was absolutely necessary. The redhead's fear was obviously irrational. To force her to face it alone, in front of everyone, was cruel.
But before I could say anything to the instructor, she hoisted herself onto the diving board in one smooth motion and sprinted the length of it. At first it looked like she would execute a surprisingly graceful straight dive, but then it went horribly wrong.
She hit the water, but instead of sinking in, she seemed to skip and bounce on the surface. As if that weren't strange enough, she screamed in pain and began to thrash about and kick on the surface of the water.
The class stared in shocked silence. Wherever she touched the water, a scale-like burn would form, then fall away, leaving a patch of raw flesh. She flip-flopped and rolled about on the surface as the burns started to bleed, her screams crescendoing.
Surreally, I noticed that her blood did not mix with the water. It stayed on top, like oil.
Dropping back into gear, I instantly knew what needed to be done. I sped down the springboard, gaining speed to hit as close as I could to where her thrashing had carried her. Sailing through the air to meet her, I suddenly felt calm. After a moment, I came up under her, lifting her partly out of the water.
She started to calm as I carefully propelled her back to safety, then rolled her out onto the the deck. The instructor ran over as I hauled myself over the edge of the pool.
The girl was in better hands than mine. I stood back and watched as the instructor and a nurse applied first aid to her burns then whisked her away to the nurse's office.
The class sat in numb silence. Just as the whispers and questions started to rise, the instructor slipped back in, closing the door quietly behind her.
"She will be fine. It looks like a chemical on her skin reacted with the chlorine in the water. It shouldn't happen again. The pool is probably safe, but this afternoon has been very stressful and I suggest that we all go home early today. Class is dismissed. I will send emails to your other teachers explaining why you won't be in class."
I turned away, still feeling numb. A few of my classmates clapped me on my back and commented on my quick swimming.
As I headed for the door, the instructor stopped me.
"Good work. Quick thinking saves many situations. Did you know the girl?"
I looked at her blankly. "No, I've never spoken to her."
"A shame. None of the emergency phone numbers in her file work. Thank you again for your effort in saving her. I'll make sure the principal hears about this. Not many would have done that for a stranger."
She smiled, then turned to attend to the other students, and I glanced back at the pool. Odd. The blood on the pool was gone, but the scabs remained, glittering like scales on the surface of the now-still water.
Had I imagined the blood? I didn't think so. Something was fishy about the whole situation, especially the teacher's explanation. It didn't explain everything... Why hadn't the redhead sunk into the water?