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Imagine yourself in a multiplex movie theater. Curiously, no walls separate the half-dozen theaters that form the multiplex. Miraculously, you are watching six different screens all at once, thoroughly understanding and enjoying every scene, word, character.

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[You in the Real World, be sure to click on the red underlined hyperlinks! And know these accounts are truewithout exaggeration!]

Peaceful Xel-Ha    The peaceful lagoon of Xel-Ha … what could possibly go wrong?

Mark Wourms, fellow collegiate soccer player (known as the “Dayton Flash” for his speedy moves) –

Who sees far more field time than do you, humphs Screen Six.

– and housemate, thinks he and I should beat the much-dreaded Ohio winter by heading south. “How far south?” I ask. He answers in white-boy Spanish. Seeing the uncomprehending look on my face – I often wear that expression – he repeats his thought in three syllables: “Mexico.”

We speak English, French, and a smattering of Tok Pisin, reminds linguist Three. We know not one lick of Spanish. At best, your soccer buddy –

Mark shows no concern. “Just finished an entire quarter of Spanish,” says the smiling Ohio University junior.

knows only a spit of Spanish.

A dry spit, at that, adds Four.

Against my will, six screens now cheer the idea. Against all odds, Mark and I weeks later lazily sun ourselves on a beach at the edge of the Gulf of Mexico.

College can’t teach this! trumpets Four.

So much natural beauty, admires Five. Clear blue skies, golden sun, white sand. What could possibly go wrong?

I sit bolt upright. Five just used the very phrase Thor, my next-youngest brother, always says right before something goes terribly wrong.

“Since you’re up, Black,” Mark murmurs, sleepily unaware of my panic, “why don’t we go check out Xel-Ha?”

Five, unaware of his blooper moments ago, steps into scientific gear. Wourms has correctly pronounced Xel-Ha as “Shay Ha,” a lagoon known as the world’s largest natural aquarium.

OLYMPUS DIGITAL CAMERAAs we pay our entry fee to this unspoiled wonder, the woman tells Mark a big storm two nights ago opened the once-closed lagoon. “Now,” translates Mark, “the open sea has found its way into the protected waters.”

What exactly does that mean? questions Two.

“It means,” I learn minutes later in the very middle of the huge lagoon, “that we unintentionally swim with barracuda.”

Six-foot barracuda, clarifies Five. My, what big teeth they have.

Back-to-back, faces down in the water, Mark and I uneasily watch the sleek predator circle us, his radius growing ever smaller.

Pull your knife, Black! shouts Six. Are you blind? He’s coming in!

‘Cuda, states Five, respond visually. The flash of a silver diving knife will draw him.

Apparently the barracuda decides sunburned collegians will be less tasty than tuna –

Which really is terrible! affirms Two.

– and disappears with a single stroke of its powerful body. Mark and I swim to land at high speed and, once there, discuss other bright ideas for adventure. “Got just the place,” he comments, then spills details.

“Cave diving isn’t a good idea,” I tell Mark as we prepare to enter. “First let me see if there’s a place to surface and grab a breath.”

All six screens look at one another in shock. Who put a cautionary note in Black’s head? asks surprised One. “None of you,” I answer. “Learned that during a scuba course I took as a frosh in high school.”

I dive down perhaps seven feet, peek, blast back to the surface in awe. “It’s a big tunnel, not a cave! We can swim right through it!”

Lead on, my man! cheers Six.

WarningOne-third of the way into the tunnel, I realize I have underestimated the tunnel’s length. I have quite a distance to travel yet, and the last oxygenated gulp I grabbed isn’t good enough to reach the end.

No backing out, says One. Mark is merrily flippering in the tunnel right behind you.

Ah, well, consoles Two. At least the light now shines through the far side.

Shines it does, indeed, agrees Six. Does anybody else notice the tunnel walls are moving?

Not the walls. The creatures on the walls. Not just gentle crabs, nor soft, slippery-skinned sea slugs. These are sucker-searching sea anemones. These are sea urchins, their sharp quills rivaling the painful porcupine’s.

But these “quills” are toxic, analyzes Five, abruptly adding, Say, Boss, your air’s a bit low. Might want to refresh.

“Can’t, Captain Obvious,” I fire back. “Don’t dare go faster, either. I risk running into these sea skewers.”

Say what you will, rebuffs Five. Passing out isn’t a viable alternative. Oxygen is essential.

I look behind me. Not-a-care-in-the-world Wourms examines wild wall-crawlers. I, in disgust and dismay, kick faster to propel myself through a massive, moving minefield.

Quilled creatures seem countless, comments Four. Quite a variety.

With five full feet of tunnel yet untraveled, my lungs scream. So does Six. Butterfly kick!

One threatening, thrilling, thunderous thump later, I clear the tunnel and blast skyward, gasping at the surface like a man in final death throes.

Mark calmly, quietly pops up next to me. “Great view,” he says, admiration bubbling out of every sea salt-filled pore. “Let’s go back through!”

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Postscript: Choosing simply to walk around the “tiny tunnel,” we return to our sun-soaked towels and stretch out. Soon, solar rays cook the fear of death right out of me. Once more, it is OK to speak to Mark.

“Gracias, amigo,” I say, exhausting one-quarter of my newly acquired Espanol. (That’s Spanish for “Spanish,” Three confusingly clarifies.) “This is the life, Wourms. Beyond my dreams. Better yet, we’re doing it for just poco dolares.” (That’s Spanish for “a few dollars,” translates Three. “Interrupt again,” I warn, “and I will turn you into a pinata.” He is silent.)

“Yeah, Black, it’s great.” He falls silent, but not from fear of becoming a pinata. A deep sigh later, Mark questions aloud, “We’re cooking to death on a Mexican beach in remote Quintana Roo. What do you suppose is going on back in Ohio?”

“Whatever it is, it can’t be as excellent as this.” I make a note in my journal to check when we return to the Buckeye State, and I do just that, laughing wildly at what I learn.

Historian Four says it best. As two transplanted tourists tanned on a distant beach, Ohioans found themselves buried by the blizzard of 1978,  up to that time the worst such snow ever recorded.

Que sera, sera, warbles Three. And I sing right along with him.

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