The sun is starting to feel like fire on my face as I wake up, and at first I assume it’s the blistering heat that’s stirred me out of my dreams. But then I start to hear the groans, low, pained, strangely defeatist, and I turn on my sunbed to find a sight that startles me up and on to my feet.
Everywhere I look, by the pool, on the beach, as far as I can see across the whole resort, tourists are in some kind of distress, many burnt a frightening red by the afternoon sun, as though someone has accelerated the slow lethalness of the rays to deadly proportions, skin steaming and mouths open in contorted screams, mostly silent as the result of fried vocal cords. Elsewhere, I see other figures disturbingly emaciated, scantily-clad youths riddled with some ailment, covered in sores and hives, crawling across the tiles and reaching out to no-one in particular. Others still are trapped on their beds, stomachs bloated to almost ridiculous proportions, bellies hanging out over the sides and hands clutching at their chests as trickles of beer run out of the cans lying knocked over at the base.
I stumble away from those nearest me, moaning and crying and reaching out for me, and start running, desperately, flitting an eye up to the sun every few steps as if anticipating the moment the orb will start to burn through my own skin with sudden speed. But it doesn’t happen. I make it down to the beach, to the edge of the water, and on instinct, perhaps simply to get as far away from what I’ve just seen as I physically can, I plunge in, wading through the surf until I’m fully in the sea, head immersed and the waves crashing over the top of me. I look down at the seafloor below, and my mouth falls open in fresh, disbelieving horror.
Across the ocean floor, more souls, much older, are making their way along, shuffling, struggling, most clad in heavy, drab coats, almost all with bowed heads, eyes dead and disappointed, all optimism apparently crushed from them. Some are wheeling themselves along in chairs, others depending on crutches, some carrying shopping bags in both hands as tears of isolation flow down their cheeks. Some, in concentrated groups, line up in queues, waiting in single file for packages being handed out.
A few, the ones with the barest traces of hope still on their faces, look upwards towards the surface, eyes searching as though wondering if things are better up there. On instinct, I glance up and see brief flashes of legs and arms moving through the water, muffled laughter of children, and I make for the top, swimming my way to the surface and breaking my head above the surf.
The resort is a scene of bliss- sunshine and fun, holidaymakers enjoying the best of summer escapism, splashing in the water, laughing and playing on the beach, drinking on apartment terraces. Glancing down, I find no sign of anything beneath me, nothing on the sea floor, no movement of lonely souls below my floating feet. I open my mouth to question, to speak, to ask someone, anyone, if I’m losing my mind, when I feel the burning heat of the sun on my face, and my vision goes blank.
I open my eyes, blink, and find myself stretched on my sunbed.