The eyes of a killer hold me hostage. His silhouette is unmistakable, even in the dark. Black orbs take the place of eyes. They disguise any hint of emotion. The steely gaze frightens me, but I know enough to hide the fear. I stare back, basking in the stillness of this moment. Any sudden movement could set him off. That’s the last thing I want.
Panic pushes at the gears in my brain, but I ignore it. I continue to hold his gaze. The seconds seem to last a lifetime. I wonder if the cold bothers him as much as it does me. He doesn’t show any sign of it. His outline stays very still in the space across from me.
Water pushes in from every angle. A living coffin of resistance and ease. I could swim as hard as possible and never make any progress. That’s the trick of the water. Every direction looks the same in the dark. I can’t tell which way is up or down.
He doesn’t have that problem. I watch his form grow closer, showing the size difference between us too clearly. A scream bubbles up in my throat, but it turns to ice in the cold. With one move, he could take my life. The thought travels through my head in a fuzzy haze as he passes. He circles the tank with simple disregard.
Relief washes over me momentarily. Then I remember where I am. No one would know what happened to me. The park closed hours ago. I was there when they locked the gates and shut off the lights. The moon came out and doused the area in soft light. I watched it pass behind his tank, revealing the hulking outline trapped inside. It was intimidating enough from the other side of the glass.
Now, there’s no glass to separate us. Every jerk of his tail shifts the water around me. That was probably the noise I heard: his tail hitting the glass. I thought something was wrong. I got close enough to inspect it. No one saw me lean over the side of the tank. No one saw me drop into it either. Gallons of water will carry the evidence. If there’s any evidence left.
The training manual goes into depth about that. Killer whales swallow their prey whole. I’ve seen it happen during the shows. They hunt fish, or birds that get too close. I don’t think he could swallow me as easily. He might just wait for me to drown first. It can’t be long now.
Everything feels tighter. My skin feels strained. My throat is tight. My chest caves in on itself. It’s a clear sign of drowning. A self-preservation technique. Don’t let the water in. Then, stay small enough to avoid being noticed. I hope it’s working. I feel smaller than I’ve ever been. I probably look small too. The whale’s body dwarfs my own.
He continues to circle the perimeter of the tank, sticking to the darkest shadows. He’s lived in here long enough to know the few places to hide. I can’t even tell how far I am from the wall.
The only sense of safety around me is the viewing window. The circle of light illuminates a small portion of water. The patch of blue looks like a mirage I dreamed up to ease the pounding in my chest. Slowly, it rises to meet me. Or, more likely, I’m sinking.
I’ve passed this window enough times to know I’m at the bottom of the tank. In the darkness of the viewing room, this window draws every person’s attention. It’s the only sense of true direction in the dark. I didn’t realize it was true for both sides.
Thick glass reflects my image. It’s disturbing to see myself where kids crane their necks to get a look. Dark hair hovers around my head like tentacles. My uniform sticks to my body like a second skin. Worry lines crease my waterlogged forehead. It’s a good thing the park’s closed. Tonight, the window only shows a drowning girl.
The blue hue reflected across my face skews any memory of myself. The colors are all wrong. I have blue eyes and pink lips. In this reflection, my lips are white. Green eyes, flecked with brown, stare back at me. They blink once. Twice.
I haven’t blinked.
It takes me a second to find the outline of the second face. Everything is hazy through the water. He’s watching me intently enough to pass as a reflection. I don’t know if he’s breathing either. If he didn’t blink, I wouldn’t have realized someone was on the other side of the glass. I would have simply thought my reflection seemed focused in the face of death.
He does seem very focused. My fingers bend at my sides. There’s not enough time for us to play this game. Time is running out. He doesn’t seem to understand what’s happening to me. When he takes a step closer, my panic breaks free.
Bubbles stream past my face. They obscure my vision of him completely. I quickly realize I’m screaming. Water floods my airways, and everything speeds up. My hand glides past my face, pounding on the glass. Every hit creates a vibration in the water. A noiseless sound that communicates my urgency.
It’s James. The night security guard is staring back at me. He absentmindedly drags a finger down the glass. It leaves a long smudge behind. The thin line hides one of his eyes as he watches my fist cut through the water, hitting the glass repeatedly.
Panic never crosses his face. There’s no wide eyes or creased brows. Amusement twitches on his lips instead. It’s enough to bring my fist to rest on the window. He’s trained for situations like this. Yet, he’s not doing anything to help me. He doesn’t seem concerned at all.
Time is valuable to a drowning person. He’s stealing it with these long looks. The twitch in his lips gives way to a full-blown smile. In the darkness of the viewing room, I can easily see the shine of his teeth. It’s unnerving to watch him smile like this. Delight changes to intent with the thinning of his lips.
Slowly, his hand reaches out. It passes the edge of the window, reaching for something out of my sight. Seconds later, the lights in the window flicker out. If I had any air left; I would use it to scream at him. The last bubble of hope cracks apart in my chest. Complete darkness envelopes me.
He stares at the glass a second longer. I don’t know if he can see me or not. The only reason I can see him is from the glow of an exit sign. It lights up his outline as he shoves his hands into his pockets, turning around. He disappears behind the smudged line he created, walking across the room like any other night. It’s an easy escape. If only I had the same opportunity.
Water shifts behind me. It’s a reminder that I’m not alone in this tank. I’m simply blind in this tank. The cold of the water has shifted to my head. It numbs the part of my brain that’s internally screaming. I don’t have the energy to be angry.
He failed the test. There’s no debating it.
I stick an arm out, palm flat to the floor. It only takes seconds for Rocky’s rubbery nose to push into it. He circles the tank again, pulling me to the surface like we practiced. The night security guard underestimated the relationship between a killer whale and his trainer. He also failed to learn the safety measures.
There’s an emergency button next to the light switch. There was a phone on the other side of the room. He could have called for help. I doubt he cares to know that. He walked away from the tank tonight without hitting any of those switches. He chose the lights.
We’ve had calls about a suspicious figure circling the whale tank at night. He’s taken a particular interest in their need to hunt. Questions about drowning have been far too frequent. I drew the line when he invited a visitor into the park after hours. She fell in just as easily as I pretended to tonight. Miraculously, she got out unscathed.
It was enough evidence for me to conduct a test of my own. The results are as clear as night and day. Tonight, I looked into the eyes of two killers.