Hold Your Breath

Julian Caruso

The sun glared overhead, warming the sand that singed my feet. Waves poured in and crashed along the shoreline. The water shone a cool sky blue, becoming a deeper blue, as it stretched out. A deep blue. Deep. 

The deep has always fascinated me. How far to the bottom could I reach? Be it the bottom of the bathtub – the bottom of the swimming pool – the bottom of the ocean…

I stared at the horizon, the ocean lifting a salty breeze to my nostrils. Sand clustered along my feet in the wind, stinging my ankles. There was nothing to be seen across the water for miles on end. I was hypnotized by the waves crashing along the bank, each push and pull, disturbing the sand under my feet. I felt liberated to be so far from civilization. Free from the disturbance of other people. Free to swim for as long as I wanted. The sea has always called to me, and I finally got to answer. 

As I inched closer to the water, the tingling sensation from the hot sand was replaced by the cool touch of the ocean. Wading further and further in, I felt its cold embrace creeping up my body. Along my legs, past my waist, across my chest. Before I knew it, I was floating. The water reached up to my chin, forcing me to swim to stay afloat. Pushing out to sea, I interchanged between different strokes: freestyle, breaststroke, backstroke. Every meter I swam was more liberating than the last. It felt nice to be away from land, as if transported to a new world, unbound by the limitations of walking. 

The shoreline shrank more and more the further I swam away. Fleeting from sight, the beach became a mere speck. After swimming for hours, I had finally reached it. The perfect spot. I turned my legs up and started my descent underwater. Eyes closed to begin with, I slowly opened them, hoping to be greeted by the illustrious sights of the ocean floor. Yet instead, I was greeted with nothing but murky water. Sullied by the sand of the ocean floor, tossed, and turned with the tide. All churned together, hiding the true beauty from sight.  

I had to swim out more. Further than I thought. Off the continental shelf, away from the slope and rise, to the deep sea. The ocean is a force of nature. Waves flew by, crashing overhead. The tides grasped at me, seeking to pull me away from my goal. To drag me under, toss me around, tire me out so that I would fall to the might of the ocean, succumbing to its formidable power. 

It was a long, enduring swim out to sea, but one anyone should take if they were to explore the wonders underneath. What was another hundred metres? No more than two laps of a swimming pool. Even more, what was another hundred after that? No amount of fatigue could have stopped me from pressing on. The call of the mystifying deep drew me closer and closer. 

As the water began to calm, a peacefulness washed over the surface. I paused for a moment and looked around. I had done it. Nothing surrounded me but blue. The deep dark blue. The shore wasn’t even a speck – it had gone completely out of sight. I turned around; I was alone. No ships lined the surface, no other people were around. No sign of human life at all. I was alone in the water with nothing around me. At least, not on the surface. 

The water swayed ever so slowly. Not a sound could be heard, bar the faint call of seagulls and the water rippling. The sun shone bright above, scorching me, the cold water relieving the burning sensation. It was nice out there. Peaceful. I laid on my back, bobbing along the surface of the water. Undisturbed. 

The peacefulness was short-lived. As the water broke, something swam past me. I felt a scaly, scratching thrill as something brushed my leg. Startled by the sudden disturbance, I jolted back up and went to place my feet on the floor but instead sank a little, forgetting there was nothing underneath me. I was forced to keep swimming to stay afloat. It had to be a fish. Although, that close to the surface, it was the only thing that made sense. I took it as an invitation. A challenge even. To follow it down into the depths of the ocean. 

I took a few deep breaths. In, then out. In, then out. In… Out… With lungs full of oxygen, I dove headfirst, followed by my shoulders, chest, waist, legs, and finally feet. I was fully submerged. I delved deeper and deeper, too anxious to open my eyes. This time, the promise for unfiltered beauty was higher than the last. Slowly opening my eyes, water filled my sight. What followed was a burst of colour emanating from the coral lining the ocean floor. Assorted oranges, pinks, yellows, and reds all vibrantly flashed at me.  

Schools of small fish swam around, whizzing by. Crabs scuttled along the sandy floor; starfish laid atop the various rocks – I spotted some turtles swimming up ahead. Coral of different shapes and sizes lined the floor and rocks – shining bright reds, oranges, and pinks. Deep green moss was spread across the rocks, silky and slick to touch. Assorted fish of different colours swam in all directions. Some yellow with black stripes, some black with yellow stripes. Others wore different shades of blue. A school of grey fish, with white dots adorned across them passed me. 

It was beautiful: everything I had ever thought of and more. The deep foreboding ocean nothing but a catalyst for those alien species of animal to live in. They were the rulers of that new world, and I was simply a visitor. They were the masters of the ocean, creatures born and bred by it, more adept to survive in it than any human. 

To live amongst the fish would be an entirely new experience. As I reached the bottom with that thought in my mind, I took it upon to myself to sit on the floor. Ignoring the popping in my ears, I made my way to the bottom, trusting nothing would erupt from the sand underneath. I grasped a handful of sand and watched it slowly sift through my fingers. Like sand in an hourglass, it reminded me it was time to resurface.  

Taking one last look at the magnificent sight before me, I started my ascent. Yet, all the swimming had taken a toll on me. My eyes widened with realisation. Practice or not, my body could only withstand so much swimming. My breath had started to fade. My eyes widened as I felt my chest constricting. I immediately tried to kick away but the muscles in my arms and legs were fatigued. Eyes widening, I looked to the surface. It had never looked so far away. I feebly grasped at the water, clawing my way to the top. Yet each attempt only tired me more. How was I so stupid?  

The greed of it all.  

The ocean called to me, like a siren serenading its prey. And I fell for it. My legs weighed me down. Constrained to the ocean floor. They were fused to the ground.   

My heart started pumping faster and faster. Adrenaline blasted through my veins. My head pounded, throbbing from the pressure of the ocean. My lungs were screaming at me. I had to push. Push. Kick with my legs. Push through and breach the surface. I could imagine that first breath of air. The sheer relief of the strain leaving my chest. The oxygen pouring into my lungs. Everything began to go numb. The feeling escaped my limbs. I felt lightheaded. Air scrambled to leave my lungs, desperate to be replaced with fresh air. My eyes stung. Ears screamed out, begging to be popped. My chest felt like it was going to explode. I passed out. My mouth slowly opened, allowing air to escape and water to take its place.  

Falling limp, my muscles relaxed, free from all the straining. Water gushed down my throat, caught by my lungs, filling them up. It was peaceful again. All that stress fading away – as I allowed the water to embrace me one last time. There was no air, nothing to fill my lungs, except water – it slowly cut the air supply to my brain. My eyes fell shut and I sunk further and further in the big, blue abyss. 


Nothing but black. 


A single bubble of air broke the surface above. 

Author: Julian Caruso is a 3rd year Creative Writing student studying at QUT. His writing deals with the theme of exploration. Whether it’s a deep dive into human emotion and psyche, or discovering the beauty of the world around us, no place should be left unexplored. 

Artist: Laura Bean is a multidisciplinary artist based in Queensland, Australia. She received her Bachelor of Photography from Griffith University (2021) and is now undertaking her Bachelor of Fine Arts at QUT. Her artistic practice spans across both digital and traditional art, often exploring topics around mental health and identity.

Accessibility Reader: Ella Uhlmann

Editors: Isa Velasquez and Bea Warren