Jeff was awake again. Awake in a big crowded dark room, surrounded by his 200 million of his brothers. He looked around. All of his brothers still looked asleep. He stretched out for a few seconds and then started to swim to the other side of the room. Jeff had always been a great swimmer. He was definitely in the top couple million best swimmers in his family.
“Hey Jeff!” another fish whispered at him.
“Dude! Keep your voice down!” Jeff whispered back as he kept swimming. He was looking around to see if they had awoken his brothers. Thankfully, they were all still asleep. All except for one. He saw the one other awake fish swimming up towards him eagerly.
“What do you want, Edgar? I’m a little busy right now.”
“What’re you up to so early Jeff? Headed to the ladder already?”
“Yeah, I thought I’d get an early start today. Get in some exercise before everyone else wakes up.” Jeff glanced back at Edgar who was swimming a few inches behind him.
“Ohhh, I see. Well okay, if all you're doing is exercising, then I am going back to sleep. But Jeff, you never exercise this early. What’s got you going today?”
“Promise me you won’t tell anyone else. Promise me Edgar and I’ll tell you.”
“Well okay, sure. I promise.”
Jeff stopped swimming and turned to face him.
“I had a dream last night. I dreamt that today was the day when I made it up the ladder and down the tunnel. I swear it. It was so vivid. So real. I can still feel the feelings from it. I’ll be first up the ladder and then I’ll head down the tunnel, once I am there, there is someone waiting for me…”
“Who??” Edgar asked excitedly.
“Shh! Quieter dude! I don’t know.. I couldn’t see who it was but I could feel it. I woke up right before I came out of the tunnel but I could feel that someone was waiting for me down there.”
“Dreams are just dreams Jeff. None of mine have ever turned out to be true. You think you’ll make it up the ladder today because you did so in your dream?? And you think getting to the ladder first will help you?” Edgar laughed and said, “Well, good luck with that.” He swam away.
He knew he was right about his dream. He had no doubt that today would be the day he made it. He was tired of swimming around with his brothers every single day. He needed something new. He kept swimming towards the ladder.
“Hey Jeff! Where are you headed?”
Jeff turned to his right and saw Paul swimming towards.
“I’m headed to the ladder.”
“Oh right on man! Can I join you little bro?”
“Sure,” Jeff replied.
“You know we are the same age? I’m not your ‘little bro’.”
Paul laughed and said, “I don’t know man, you just feel like my little brother, you know?”
“Nope. I don’t feel that way at all.” Jeff swam a little faster.
Paul matched his speed.
“So why are you headed to the ladder bro?”
Jeff told him about his dream.
“But Jeff, no one knows what’s outside the tunnel…. No one has ever come back from there. What if you die dude?”
“I’ll take my chances. I gotta get out of here.”
Paul swam in front of Jeff and turned to face him.
Jeff tried to swim around him. Paul started swimming backwards, blocking Jeff from the ladder.
“Listen to me little bro, I won’t let you go up the ladder! It’s too risky! It’s the unknown man! Doesn’t that scare you??”
Jeff stopped trying to get past him.
“It used to but today… today it doesn’t.”
Jeff faked like he was going past Paul on the right and swam around him on his left.
Paul yelled to him as he swam away, “You’re crazy little bro!”
Jeff continued forward.
He didn’t care what anyone said. He was going to make it up the ladder today. Someone was down there waiting for him and he had to make it to her.
“Excuse me young man, where are you headed?”
“WE ARE ALL THE SAME AGE!” Jeff snapped at his brother.
“Oh really?” he said calmly, “Do you remember when you were born Jeff?”
Jeff kept swimming forward.
“I don’t have time for this.”
His brother followed.
“So where are you headed?” He asked him.
“I’m headed to the ladder.”
“Ohhh I see. That won’t do you any good Jeff. We don’t get to decide who goes up the ladder. It’s random. It doesn’t matter if you’re a fast swimmer or you start up front. It’s all just luck.”
“I don’t believe that…”
“It’s true Jeff. Why are the top swimmers still here? If it was a race, they would have won a long time ago. I’ve seen the slowest swimmers make it and I play ‘Go-Fish’, with some of the fastests swimmers every Friday night at my place.”
“What’re you saying?” Jess was confused and angry. He didn’t have time for this.
“I’m saying you should just relax and understand what happens to us, if we make it out of here or not, it’s just random. Just let it be. Let go of the things out of your control. If you make it, you make it, if you don't, well, life will go on.”
“I want out of here. I want an adventure. I want a change. I want to meet new fish. How do I do that if I stay here?”
“Your time will come. Trust me.” He winked at Jeff.
Suddenly the door of the ladder opened up and millions of fish started getting sucked into the opening. Jeff swam with everything in him towards the opening.
“Good luck young man! I hope you make it to the end and find whatever it is you’re looking for!”
Jeff shouted over his shoulder as he kept swimming,
“We are the same god damn age!!”
Jeff made it to the door and started swimming up the ladder as fast as he could. The problem was, it didn’t matter how fast he swam, they were all getting pulled equally up the ladder by whatever was sucking them out of there. Him and his fellow brothers were spinning around wildly by the current. They ran into each other repeatedly.
“This is chaos!!” one of them yelled.
Jeff tried to swim forward, ahead of everyone else. He had to have been somewhere in the middle of the millions of his brothers that were headed up the tunnel. He willed himself forward.
He saw Edgar pass him on his left. And then Paul passed him on his right.
The ladder suddenly dropped straight down. They all speed up. The current was getting faster and faster and so was the chaos.
“Do you hear that??” One of his brothers yelled.
Jeff had been oblivious to almost everything. He was focused on one thing right now, getting down the tunnel. But then he heard it. It was the combination of a low repetitive moan and a higher repetitive moan. The two moans were completely in sync.
“What the hell is that??” someone behind him said.
Jeff blocked it out and kept trying to navigate his way to the front.
He weaved and juked, passing many of his brothers.
He made it past Paul. He made it past Edgar. He was getting closer and closer to the front.
“Go for it Jeff!” he heard Edgar scream up to him. Jeff felt more alive then he had ever felt before. He knew his dream was right. He believed in it and it was going to pay off. Soon he’d meet the woman of his dreams and he would start a new life with her. He would no longer have to deal with his boring brothers in their giant room. He would be free.
The moaning got louder and he could no longer block it out. It had changed somehow, gotten more intense. It sounded to Jeff like something was coming.
“This is it!!” he yelled. He saw a light from the end of the tunnel. He was approaching it at top speed. He closed his eyes. He popped out of the end of the tunnel……
and into a sock.