Authors: Anna Banks
She snickers. “But seriously, which one of them do you think would win a staring contest? I was gonna tell him to meet us at Baytowne to night, but he might be one of those clingy stalker types. That’s too bad, too. There’s a million dark little corners in Baytowne for you two to snuggle—”
“Ohmysweetgoodness, Chloe, stop!” I giggle and shiver at the same time and accidentally imagine walking around The Village in Baytowne Wharf with Galen. The Village is exactly that—
a sleepy little village of tourist shops in the middle of a golf-course resort. During the daytime anyway. At night though . . .
when the dance club wakes up and opens its doors to all the sunburned partiers roaming the cobblestoned walkways with their daiquiris. Galen would look great under the twinkling lights, even with a shirt on. . . .
Chloe smirks. “Uh- huh. Already thought of that, huh?”
“Uh- huh. Then why are your cheeks red as hot sauce?”
“Nuh- uh!” I laugh. She does, too.
“You want me to go ask him to meet us, then?” 0—
I nod. “How old do you think he is?”
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She shrugs. “Not creepy- old. Old enough for
to be jail-bait, though. Lucky for him,
just turned eigh teen. . . . What the . . . did you just kick me?” She peers into the water, swipes her hand over the surface as if clearing away something to see better. “Something just bumped me.”
She cups her hands over her eyes and squints, leaning down so close that one good wave could slap her chin. The concentration on her face almost convinces me. Almost. But I grew up with Chloe— we’ve been next- door neighbors since the third grade. I’ve grown used to fake rubber snakes on my front porch, salt in the sugar dish, and saran wrap spread across the toilet seat— well, actually, Mom fell prey to that one. The point is Chloe loves pranks almost as much as she loves running. And this is defi nitely a prank.
“Yep, I kicked you,” I tell her, rolling my eyes.
“But . . . but you can’t reach me, Emma. My legs are longer than yours, and I can’t reach you. . . . There it is again! You didn’t feel that?”
I didn’t feel it, but I did see her leg twitch. I wonder how long she’s been planning this. Since we got here? Since we boarded the plane in Jersey? Since we turned twelve? “Yeah right, Chloe.
You’ll have to do better than that if—”
Her scream is blood- congealing. Her eyes balloon almost out of their sockets, and the creases on her forehead look like stairs. She grabs her left thigh, holding it so tight one of her fake nails pops off .
“Stop it, Chloe! It isn’t funny!” I bite my lip, trying to keep
up my show of indiff erence.
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Another nail pops off . She reaches for me but misses. Her leg jerks back and forth in the water, and she screams again, only much, much worse. She clutches the board with both hands, but her arms are shaking too much to stay anchored. Real tears mix with seawater and sweat on her face. Her sobs come in huge gulps, like she can’t decide if she wants to cry or scream again.
And I am convinced.
I lunge, grasp her forearm, scoot to her on the board. Blood clouds the water around us. When she sees it, her screams become frantic, un- human. I lace my fi ngers through hers, but she barely grips back.
“Hold on to me, Chloe! Pull your legs up on the board!”
“No, no, no, no, no, no, no,” she sobs, choking between breaths. Her whole body shakes, and her teeth chatter as if we’ve somehow drifted into the Artic Ocean.
And the fi n is all I see. Our hands separate. I scream as the surfboard tilts and Chloe is wrenched from it. The water snatches away her shriek as she’s pulled under. Blood trails behind as she becomes a shadow, moving deeper and deeper, further and further away from light, from oxygen. From me.
“Shark! Shark! Help! Somebody please help us!
” I fl ail my arms and scream. Kick my legs and scream. Bounce up and down on the surfboard— and scream and scream and scream. I slide off , stick the board in the air, wave it with all my strength. The weight of it forces me under. Terror and water cocoon me. For a second, I’m four years old again, drowning in
my grandmother’s pond. Panic settles on me like stirred- up 0—
muck. But unlike then, I keep tethered to reality. I don’t detach;
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I don’t let my imagination take over. I don’t dream of catfi sh and striped bass pushing me to the surface, rescuing me.
Maybe it’s because I’m older. Maybe it’s because someone else’s life depends on my staying calm. What ever the reason, I keep my grasp on the surfboard and pull myself up, swallowing part of a wave as I surface. The saltwater stings my raw throat even as the fresh air chases it.
The people on shore are specks, moving around like fl eas on a dog. No one sees me. Not the sunbathers, not the shallow- water swimmers, not the moms hunting shells with their toddlers.
There are no boats, no Jet Skis nearby. Just water, sky, and a setting sun.
My sobbing turns into lung- bursting hiccups. No one can hear me. No one can see me. No one is coming to save Chloe.
I push the surfboard away, toward shore. If the waves carry it in, maybe someone will see that its own er didn’t return with it. Maybe they will even remember the two girls who took it out. And maybe they will look for us.
Deep inside, I feel I’m watching my life fl oat away on that glistening board. When I peer down into the water, I feel I’m watching Chloe’s life fl oat away with that faint trail of blood, blurred and weakened by each passing wave. The choice is clear.
I breathe in as much air as my lungs can take without popping. And then I dive.
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As fast as he is, Galen is too late. He powers through the current as the fl oor of the gulf slants steeper and steeper. Every time he hears Emma’s desperate screams, he pushes harder, harder than he’s ever pushed himself before. But he doesn’t want to see it. What ever is happening to her to make her scream like that, he doesn’t want to see it. Already, he knows he’ll be haunted by those screams forever. He doesn’t want to add to his torment with the sight of it. Chloe has already stopped screaming— he doesn’t want to think about what that means. And he refuses to acknowledge how much time has passed since he heard Emma.
He clenches his teeth and slices through the water faster than he can see ahead of him.
Finally, fi nally, he fi nds them. And he is too late.
He groans when he sees Emma. She clutches Chloe’s limp
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arm, pulling and tugging and twisting, struggling to pry her friend from the bull shark’s jaws. She doesn’t see that each jerk, each yank, each inch she gains only tears more fl esh from Chloe’s leg. And she doesn’t see that her friend stopped fi ghting long ago.
She and the beast are at war. It shakes and writhes, mirror-ing her actions, pulling them both into deeper water, but Emma won’t let go. Galen glances around, wary for other contenders the blood might attract. But the haze of red is dissipating— Chloe is almost drained.
Why didn’t Emma change? Why didn’t she save her friend?
Doubts mingle with remorse. He swallows the eruption of bile shooting up his throat.
Rayna is right.
She isn’t one of them. If she was, she would have saved her friend. She would have changed, would have carried Chloe away to safety— all healthy Syrena can swim faster than sharks.
I was wrong. Emma is human. Which means she needs oxygen. Now. He starts toward her but stops.
The several minutes she has been fi ghting that shark should have sapped her strength. But her tugs are becoming
A few times, she even makes headway toward shallower water.
is making headway with a bull shark
. Galen remembers Dr. Milligan saying humans make something called adrenaline, which makes them stronger, gives them more energy when they need it to survive. Maybe Emma’s body is making extra adrenaline. . . .
Why are you thinking about it? Even if it is adrenaline, she’s still human.
She needs help. And where is Rayna? She should have been here by now, with
those useless humans who call themselves lifeguards.
Lifeguards who sit in
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their tall wooden stands, keeping careful vigilance of the beach to make sure no one with a bikini drowns in the white sand.
Galen doesn’t have time to wait for any adolescent savior.
Even if Emma’s making enough adrenaline to
down here, it’s a miracle the shark hasn’t given up on Chloe and attacked
He starts toward her a second time. And for a second time, he stops.
It’s just that . . . she doesn’t
as though she needs help.
Her pale face is contorted with anger. Not fear. Not distress.
Just fury. Her white hair fl oats around her like an aura, jerking in delayed reaction with each of her capable movements. She grunts and growls in frustration. Galen’s eyes widen as she lifts her leg to kick. Her human legs are not powerful enough to do damage; water slows the movement, blunts the force of the blow.
Still, she lands her mark on its eye, and the impact is enough to make the beast let go. It doesn’t leave, just makes a wide circle around the girls. And then it swims directly at them.
Galen charges. Of his kind, he is the fastest. He can make it to her before the shark, snatch her away, and probably even change back to human form before she sees him. But why bother to change back at all? He’s in Blended form right now, his skin mimicking the water all around him. All she would see is a watery glob carry ing her to shore. Even if he un- Blended, if he let her see him, no one will believe her if she tells. They’ll insist she lost consciousness, that she swallowed too much saltwater, that she was too traumatized to know what she saw.
But he wants her to know, wants her to see him. For some 0—
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reason beyond sense, he wants Emma to remember him. Because this will be the last time he ever sees her. There’s no need to follow her, to watch her. After today he has no interest in her. A human cannot unite his people. Not even a breathtaking one.
Breathtaking? Rayna’s right— you’ve lost your mind!
He groans and speeds up. Emma’s scream almost chokes him.
“Stop!” she yells.
Galen stops. But Emma’s not talking to him. She’s talking to the shark.
And the shark stops.
Emma wraps both arms around Chloe and hugs her to her chest, leaning her friend away from the attack. “You can’t have her! Leave her alone! Leave us both alone!” The shark turns, saunters away as if sulking.
Galen gasps. He watches until the smooth sway of its tail disappears in the distance. He tries to comprehend it. Because what he knows,
about bull sharks is that they don’t back down. Aggressive and ruthless, they are one of the most feared among Syrena and humans alike— the most likely to attack the young of either kind. And this one just surrendered his meal, his rightful kill.
Galen’s attention whips back to Emma when he hears her strangled cry. She is still clutching Chloe, and they are sinking.
Emma kicks her legs and fl ails with her free arm. Her face is not angry now but full of distress. Fear. Exhaustion. Emma looks like a real human.
Galen hears a noise approaching, the soft thrum of a boat
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Rayna. But will she be in time?
Each passing second drains the spirit from Emma’s fi ght. Her kicking becomes erratic, her arm thrashes without any clear purpose.
Galen is frozen in indecision. She isn’t human— she can’t be. Adrenaline might help a human hold her breath, but not for this long. Plus, humans don’t talk underwater— especially when doing so sacrifi ces precious oxygen. And bull sharks do not back down from humans— especially one as puny as Emma.
Still, they don’t back down from Syrena either. Unless Dr. Milligan is right. Unless Emma has the gift of Poseidon.
But if she is Syrena, then why
she change? She could have saved her friend’s life. Why doesn’t she change now? Surely she knows her friend is dead. Why make a show of struggling in human form?
Can she sense me the way I sense her?
Galen shakes his head. There is not enough time to consider these things. For what-ever reason, Emma is willing to drown to stay in human form.