The sun was an enormous, blazing yellow orb hung high in the horizon, overlooking the swimmers of Indiahoma’s Public Pool like a giant, flaming, blindingly bright beach ball/chaperone. This was the hottest day of the summer, with a high of one-hundred and ten degrees, a fact which Sterling Sandwich, Lifeguard Lad did not take lightly. Which is why he began his shift at the Indiahoma Public Pool by liberally slathering on his homemade sunblock, which he swore was SPF 96,000. Nobody knew the exact ingredients that went into Sterling Sandwich, Lifeguard Lad’s homemade sunblock, but what was known was that it was infallible, nearly invisible, smelled vaguely of wolfsbane and fresh mozzarella, and as a salad dressing it was an abject failure.
There wasn’t much that Sterling Sandwich, Lifeguard Lad shared about himself, except the basics. He was a male, Caucasian, fifteen years old, one-hundred forty pounds, brown hair buzzed so short it looked like a freshly mown lawn, and blue eyes as deep as the deep end of the Indiahoma Public Pool, which is to say nine feet deep. Nobody could recall when he began patrolling the pool, or whom he replaced, but it seemed as though he had been there forever. Always fifteen, always five-foot ten, one-hundred forty pounds. When the summer was over, he disappeared, never going to school, trick-or-treating or singing Christmas carols. No one knew where he lived or who his parents were. No one knew when his birthday was or whether he preferred chocolate or white cake, or if he even liked cake at all. No one knew if he was thrilled by fast cars, afraid of vampires, played any musical instruments, wore scratchy wool sweaters or if he had ever had his heart broken. He did cut a striking figure, rather muscular and tan, and was exceedingly brave, never wavering in his duties of protecting swimmers, but he never seemed to take an interest in any of the girls who made eyes by the poolside. A few girls every year tried to catch his eye but his interest was purely one-fold: pool safety. Sterling Sandwich, Lifeguard Lad was just that: a Lifeguard Lad.
On this extra-sunny day, however, his job was put to a test he’d never before faced. Something more unusual than the morning he arrived to find the pool filled with five-hundred and seventy-seven chicken tacos, more unusual than the time Mr. Huflaker hiccuped so fiercely while doing the backstroke, the ripple effect flooded the concession stand, and the popcorn was soggy for two weeks. It began simple enough, with very little excitement. The Galingle triplets were chastised for running too close to the deep end, Molly St. Charles pretended to twist her ankle in an (unsuccessful) effort to snare a date with him, Boris Florist tried to sneak back into the pool less than an hour after consuming an entire footlong. A fairly ordinary day at the Indiahoma Public Pool.
But then, a new figure emerged, an elderly woman in a shiny silver one-piece and mint-green swim cap. She wandered over to the hot tub, which was currently unoccupied, and dipped her feet in, gently. Nothing unusual there, the hot tub, true to its name, was hot and it could take a few moments for your body to adjust to the temperature increase. It was when she reached into her bright fuschia beach bag and removed a large fishing pole that things began to take a strange turn.
There was no stated rule against fishing in the hot tub, but in general, patrons of the pool knew it was frowned upon. Except this woman, whom Sterling Sandwich, Lifeguard Lad observed with a mixture of confusion and disdain. Should he allow her to continue her charade until someone else tried to enter the hot tub, lest they step or sit on the hook? Or should he nip this in the bud right away and march over to the old woman, demanding an explanation? Before he could decide, the woman began jumping up and down with excitement, the tip of her pole bowing toward the tub.
At first Sterling Sandwich, Lifeguard Lad thought nothing of it. Most likely the hook had been caught on a step or a jet. But as the woman began reeling in the line, he panicked. A scaly, dark blue creature fought fiercely to remain in the water, but the woman reeled and pulled and eventually had the creature flapping on the concrete, eyes wide with fear, and what appeared to be annoyance. The scaly creature had darker blue fins running down its spine and looked to measure about ten feet long. The fact that the hot tub itself was only three feet deep was odd enough, but the creature itself was unlike any he had ever seen. It appeared to be some sort of humanoid fish, a body covered in gills but two arms and legs, and giant eyes on either side of his head that apparently had no eyelids.
Sterling Sandwich, Lifeguard Lad gaped at the scene, but quickly regained his composure and recalled his Lifeguard Oath: To Keep the Pool Safe, Sound, Swimming and Sane. The Sane part always seemed a bit out of place to him until now. Now he knew that this freakish display of freakishness needed to be stopped. He marched up to the elderly woman and posed dramatically in front of her, hands on his hips, gaze steely, trying to ignore the ten-foot fishman gasping for breath to his right. “Ma’am, I’m afraid I must ask you to leave this pool forthwith and take your ten-foot Gill Man with you. We cannot stand for any, uh, fishy behavior.” He grimaced. The pun was unfortunate, but inevitable.
The woman smiled. “Oh, goodness sakes gee-whosephat me, am I causing a fuss? I am so, so, so, so very, very, very, very sorry. Please forgive my son and I, we don’t mean to cause a ruckus. Chadwick, apologize to the nice Lifeguard Lad for the ruckus causing you’ve caused.” She helped the fishman up by the arm and gave him a hearty slap on the back. Chadwick gasped loudly and began breathing normally, shooting a dirty glance at his mother.
“Mom, please, you’re embarrassing me!” he whined, shoulders sagging under the weight of his embarrassment. His eyes darted back and forth, as the other pool patrons regarded him with awe and fear. This, of course, just made him more embarrassed.
Sterling Sandwich, Lifeguard Lad was dumbfounded. “Your son? But-but-but.. how? What?”
“Yes, I know what you’re thinking. A woman my age, still having to care for her full-grown son. He’s not a bad boy, just a little misunderstood. You see, his father was a very charming flounder who…” she paused and her eyes became teary, “he was caught many years ago. Chadwick hasn’t been the same since. But he means well, he really does. Anyhow, you really should’ve been keeping an eye on him. Good Golly Furfollysephat knows how long he’s been in that hot tub, and that can’t be good for his gills.”
“Mom, how many times do I have to tell you, I can take care of myself!” Chadwick shouted, flailing his arms and narrowly missing knocking his mother into the kiddie pool.
“I know, I know, but a mother worries, it’s her right. Anywhosephat, we won’t keep you any longer. Come, Chadwick.” Chadwick put up a brief struggle, but after an admonishing smack on the arm by his mother, he obeyed. And with that, the woman and her giant fish son left the Indiahoma Public Pool, never to be seen again. Sterling Sandwich, Lifeguard Lad tried convincing himself it was a hallucination, brought on by the heat or a faulty batch of homemade sunblock. But every now and then, he’d wander over to the hot tub and peek in, just to satisfy his curiosity. And rarely, but sometimes, he’d swear he’d seen a face peering up at him, as if to say, “Get off my back, I don’t need two mothers! Leave me alone, will you? Just leave me alone!”
And he would.