Authors: C.V. Dreesman
Copyright © 2014 C.V. Dreesman
All Rights Reserved
This book or any portion thereof may not be reproduced or used in any manner without the express written permission of the author or publisher except for the use in articles or reviews. This is a work of fiction. All names, characters, and events are products of the author’s imagination or used in a fictitious manner. Any resemblance to actual persons, living or dead, actual events, or locations is purely coincidental.
The water was cold. I mean really cold. The kind of swirling shock that freezes blood and stabs right through your brain. It is a closed fist that keeps squeezing until its glacial nails dig into itself, crushing whatever it holds. Unfortunately those cold waters held me. And I was drowning.
The world around me was all an inky darkness as I struggled to comprehend which way was up. Twisting in a frantic effort to save myself, I caught glimpses of the kicking legs of my classmates as they fought to cling to the surface. But the same struggle only carried me around in unnatural patterns knotting my body like some contortionist featured in a fantastical stage production. I lost all sense of direction again as my body sank further into the cold clutches the numbing abyss closed over me.
When I had first hit the water with several others from our class field trip, it was instinct that saved me from swallowing a lungful of salted sea. Instinct or human nature because we were not meant to survive in the sea. Around it, even on it, sure. But not under it. That self preservation gene that Mr. Lir had lectured us on a few weeks ago made perfect sense now. Too bad I had to be a very wet and shivering cold lab rat to prove his theory. Then again I had always been a good student. Yep, I had been one of those students that were always called on even though I never raised a hand.
I guess fate did have a sense of humor, but I wasn't laughing.
I realized the cold was claiming my life. This was no time to drift into my own thoughts as I so often did. With a renewed sense of urgency I fought to find a way to the surface. The now waterlogged jacket that had kept me warm on the boat had become an iron weight. Doing my best to keep the fear I felt stuffed deep inside my head, my numbed fingers struggled to unsnap and unzip it without much success. As I struggled, a large something appeared out of the depths.
That something came as a streak of grey and white over a rotund, cylindrical torso. It disappeared in the distance momentarily, only to reappear seconds later, a bit closer this time. It was beautiful, the creature all natural wonder and awe. Every movement was graceful beneath the ocean, its elemental home. And it was terrifying for one who is drowning below the waves.
An involuntary scream formed from deep within me. I kept my lips sealed shut, thankfully, although a handful of globulous bubbles escaped from the corners. We had come on this field trip because of the reported increase in shark sightings along the coast. Mr. Lir had deviated from the planned section about great ape behavior with all the recent activity and suspected attacks used to explain several men's disappearance. He hastily put together some lectures on the migratory history of sharks and arranged for this excursion for us. Now here I was about to become the lead story on the evening news.
I could see it now. My mom crying on the eleven o'clock broadcast about the cruelty of fate. Having lost my father only over a year ago and now her only child, she could certainly make a case. Then again, she hadn't wept with the news of his death so maybe she wouldn't cry for me either. Maybe she would just pack up and move like we did before. Just leave the memories behind and start over without a tear falling free.
I had to stop that. My thoughts were becoming muddled and I was starting to get light headed as spots formed before my quickly diminishing vision. Besides, I had lost sight of the shark, although I saw three others in the distance stealthily approaching. I did my best to stop that darn theme song from playing inside my head. Yeah, that one.
The ever increasing pressure of recycled air on my lungs forced more bubbles to escape my mouth. It eased the pain slightly. This time I watched as they rose to see the way up, the way to free myself from the watery serpent constricting about me. Dizzy, cold, and confused but somewhere there lay the strength to follow those pockets of expelled air and gasses. I clawed my way up, kicking my feet to propel my body. I had to trust everything was working because I told it to, but I couldn't really know when much of the feeling in my limbs had been lost to the pervasive cold. All I really knew was that I must hurry. All I saw were the bubbles readily escaping from view.
No matter how hard I pulled at the water it seemed I hardly moved. Something was wrong. I knew I should be moving towards the surface. I sensed my legs were working without making progress. Then the scariest moment of my life up until that point happened. I was yanked down deeper into the watery depths. Not pulled, but yanked! It sent me tilting if you can truly tilt under water, and I could imagine the gaping maw of a great white clamped into the defenseless bone of my ankle.
Twisting around and down to see, even that short distance was wrapped darker than the starless sky. The deep dark blue of the sea swallowed me up to my knees. Kicking at whatever held me, fully expecting a spray of blood to cloud me in a froth of toothy victory, I was suddenly free. And just as suddenly a hand of obsidian tipped talons shot out desperately clawing for my leg.
Then I did scream.
As the air rushed out and salty water poured in to fill the void, a malformed beast swam at me in its own pool of snarling bubbles. It sent jagged lines of agony streaking down my thigh as it fought to pull me to it. Through the strands of hair slithering about like sea serpents as I thrashed in desperation, I saw flashing glints of rainbow from an oversized scaled tail. An eye just as mine, human yet not wholly, stared up from the deep. At least I thought it was so, although it was hard to tell for certain as I fought for breath and escape. The terror of the attack and drowning lent me strength to flee, but as I turned with a violent kick, another form shot past me on a speedy descent.
The lean form streaking past belonged to the foreign student, the one who had recently arrived from the green shores of Ireland. I couldn't recall his name, just that it came clumsily to the lips. His coppery brown hair was slicked back by the speed at which he swam. He was, in that moment as he shot past, as sleek and targeted as a torpedo. Sleek and shimmering and targeted at the creature below me. In moments such as this the most absurd thoughts can pop into a thought. Mine was, isn't he cold in this freezing water without a shirt? That might explain a few things people whisper about me when they think I am not listening.
He didn't slow as he collided with my attacker. They tumbled away, back into the gloom amidst an explosion of whirling bubbles. I thought I saw the muted glint of metal shaped like a blade, but dismissed it as delirium.
Nothing stirred in what felt like an eternity. Too shocked to move, I slowly let myself drift into the deep. My eyes began to droop with the warm numbness the water spread throughout my body. Until I saw him emerge from the cloaking depths, this time swimming towards me. His eyes were the blazing blue held in a cloudless sky sent to light the way. I was so relieved that I remembered the need to taste fresh air again. Instinct, as I said, can save you. But sometimes it can kill you too.
Relaxing at the sight of something familiar, relieved that it was him returning, my body involuntarily sucked in the salt and the sea. I was not drowning now, I was dying. The last thing I saw before blacking out was an Irish hand reaching out for me.
The voice fell in the whisper of summer promise. The word was a ray of gleaming flame. I knew who had spoken even before my eyes fluttered open to take in the face. It was the speaker I had longed to see again. My heart twitched with the knowledge.
My father stood beside me, both of us facing the horizon as the sun set behind red rocked cliffs across the deep chasm gaping a few steps beyond our feet. In profile he had not changed. The same deep etched lines were drawn along the corners of his mouth, almost reaching his cheek. The crows feet still crinkled the skin beside his eye. Even the hair was, as it had always been, cropped short and severe in opposition to the face. It was a face I had not seen for a year except in our family albums. A face I had not touched since he had been taken from me in a hit and run accident.
So gently that I barely noticed, my father laid an arm across my shoulders, comforting and reassuring. He pulled me close, embracing me like he used to do when I was a little girl and scared of the dark closet. Or the first day at a new school. Or clowns.
"Still afraid of clowns, huh?"
I pushed at him, not hard, just in mock indignation.
"No," I told him. We laughed, both of us knowing I was lying. "Can you read minds now?"
"More like sensing a thought or strong emotion. It is like a flicker of a picture. A screenshot I guess you would call it."
"It wasn't your fault they said. The accident, I mean. But if I ever find the guy who hit you..." I was chocking back angry tears, gripping that old plaid shirt in a tight fist. "Whoever it was..."
"You run as fast and as far as you can from them. Do not do anything else. You run. Got it?"
I didn't get it. Why would I run away from my father's killer? How could I do that? I wouldn't. My father might not know it, but I did. The words had been said by me before and I reiterated them in my head again. I swore it to myself. Somehow that vow hardened my heart. It sat there in my chest, a physical weight that I could literally feel, a heavy stone I gladly bore.
"No honey. No..." His words all soft sorrow. They cut me deeper than anything I had ever known. Damn. I promised myself I wouldn't shed another tear ever since that awful day. My mother was my example. Now I couldn't hold them back as I rested my head against my father's shoulder.
"Shh now. Listen. Your mother was right. I did not see it before, but now I do. She was right to take you away. So listen to her, okay? I thought I could protect you, but I'm not there now. She is. She will protect you from whatever is to come."
"What does that mean? Diana just runs from things, Dad." He glanced sharply at me, that rare flash of anger behind grey eyes. "Okay. Mom. She can't face the facts. She hides from reality."
"Maybe reality is not what you believe it to be, honey."
What did that mean? What was he talking about? But looking back to the setting sun that hadn't set yet, that hadn't even moved, I thought I understood.
"What does it matter now? I'm dead. Just like you."
"Dead? No, you aren't dead," he chuckled.
"Then how are we here, together?" I asked him.
"This is the Wylde, the realm of sun and shadow. The great between world. I always thought it was a fable, but it is true," looking at me with those kind eyes full of parental caring, that look I had so yearned to see again, my father added, "You brought me here. Your love, pained as it is, compelled me this hour. At least I think that is the reason we are together now."
Before I could ask the questions his words gave rise to, the sound of tumbling boulders falling from some distant height spun us both around. My father put a protective arm in front of me. His hand darted inside the leather jacket he wore. It was the same jacket he was wearing when he had died. All faded black and peeling at the collar from years of sun and oil. It smelled of him, I realized, and choked back another tearful round that would have been epic in its intensity.
When all that we saw was that red and broken land, even as sounds from falling rocks and sliding pebbles continued, my father turned back to look at me. Odd that the clothes he wore were the same ones he had worn that final day, but not a scratch showed on him except for the blooming dark liquid petal seeped across his chest.
"Dad? What is that?" I asked, pointing an accusatory finger at the stain.
He didn't look down, didn't even act surprised.
"I am sorry we lied to you. I'm sorry I hid the truth," he spoke, leaning forward to rest those hands that had been so strong in life gently upon my shoulders. His eyes were wide with pleading. He wanted forgiveness for something I didn't understand. That, without knowing, I didn't know how to give.
"I've missed you, sweetie."
"I miss you, Dad."
"Open your eyes, honey," he told me, not making sense. My eyes were open. "Look beyond the shielded truth to find the answers you will need."
He shoved me. Hard. My arms windmilled as I stumbled over the lip of the canyon gorge. The world dropped away as I fell into the lightless chasm, screaming for the father who was leaving me again.
The ocean roiled and spit itself out in a geyser of burning froth. At least it felt that way to me as the salty water was discharged from my burning lungs. I was dimly aware that someone's hand pumped against the cold knit sweater chilling my chest and the awful gasping cough that followed. Ungentle hands rolled my drowned form onto my side. A softer touch stroked over the wet hair plastered to my head. Both were comforting in their own way. Both told me I had survived.
Students stood ringed around me wearing expression ranging from fear to shock to excitement for those few who recorded the sight with their smart phones. Voices were saying something very close to my ear, but they were all a garble. Just beyond the group, his back pressed against the hull, sat the boy who had saved my life.
Forgotten now that the question of my survival had an answer, a deckhand had at least given him a towel from the ship's stores that he was using to vigorously dry his coppery head. He noticed that I was looking and our gazes locked together. His eyes were mesmerizing. They drew me in with their hints at something mysterious, a thing I could not wholly read. Was it concern or scolding? Maybe. But maybe something else too.
Another cough wracked my body, breaking my eyes away. It was like being wrenched from watching an accident or being pushed apart by my father.
When I got the coughing under control I found him looking now with obvious concern. An angry red scratch was raked across his chest. Another jagged wound ran down his shoulder and was trickling blood. Neither seemed too serious, but both would leave a scar. I returned his look as best I could until Walt stuck his face in front of mine.
"Hey. Are you okay?"
I nodded. Lily leaned down to kiss the top of my wet crown between her stroking touch through my hair. She was a good friend, one of the few I had made over the past year. Others came up to slap Walt on the back in a congratulatory matter. Why him, I wondered, a bit indignant. His mom was a nurse after all, so of course he would know what to do. But I was the one who had nearly died. Some of those thoughts were, I was sure, coming from the fact that our relationship, if you could call it that, had recently ended. I thought I had move on, but maybe I hadn't.
Sneaking another peek around Walt's beaming face, I saw the Irish boy grinning at me. I tried to grin back before stopping short as I felt post drowning sea water drool leaking from the corners of my mouth. It must have been there all along. He wasn't grinning at me. He was laughing. Too weak to wipe it away and glare at him I had a decision to make.
I settled for the glare.