Authors: Shana Norris
Tags: #teen, #young adult, #Love, #Paranormal, #finfolk, #Romance, #fantasy, #beach, #mermaid
SWANS LANDING BOOK THREE
Copyright 2013 by Shana Norris
Cover design: Copyright 2013 by Shana Norris
Cover photograph: Copyright 2013 by Richard Carey | Dreamstime.com
This story is a work of fiction. Names, characters, places, and events are either products of the author’s imagination or are used fictitiously. Any resemblance to actual events, locales, or persons, living or dead, is entirely coincidental.
All Rights Reserved.
No part of this publication can be reproduced or transmitted in any form or by any means, electronic or mechanical, without written permission from the author.
My soul is full of longing
for the secret of the sea.
- Henry Wadsworth Longfellow
The world had turned into an endless stretch of gray. Gray water, gray clouds, gray sky.
How could I be sure we were swimming in the right direction when all I could see was gray everywhere? There was nothing to indicate which direction was which, or that the place we’d been hoping to see for the last month and a half was almost within reach.
When I stopped swimming to examine the horizon, my half-sister Sailor Mooring swam to my side. Even she looked gray. The circles that had appeared under her eyes after our last swim across the Atlantic had deepened even more during this second swim. She had always been thin, but now cheekbones looked on the verge of poking through her skin and the water lapped at her shoulder just below her sharp collarbone.
My gaze switched to the woman at Sailor’s side. Coral Mooring, her mother, had the same gray emaciated look. But Coral had looked that way even when we’d found her back in Hether Blether, one of the vanishing islands of our people.
No, I reminded myself. The finfolk in Hether Blether were not
people. Our people had left the homeland centuries ago in search of a different life. We had almost nothing in common with the savage finfolk that still lived there under the rule of Domnall, the finfolk king.
“What is it?” Callum Murchadh asked in his thick Scottish brogue. Wet red hair clung to his pale face as he studied me. Callum was perceptive and I should have known that he would notice my hesitation.
I shook my head. “Nothing. I must be mistaken.”
“What’s wrong, Josh?” Sailor asked, a tight edge to her voice.
I scanned the area around us again, searching through the mist that hung over the water for the dark shape I hoped to see.
But it wasn’t there. I had paid close attention to the path Sailor and I had taken from our home of Swans Landing when we’d first left back in March. I took note of the landmarks that would tell us where we were and estimated the swimming distance between each one in my head. I had a good memory. I didn’t think I’d forgotten anything, especially not something this important. I remembered everything, from the earliest memory I had at age three—I’d spelled “Joshua Oliver Canavan” with my wooden blocks—to the scent of Mara Westray’s body wash that I hadn’t smelled in five months. My memory was great.
But something else wasn’t right.
We had passed the black and white striped lighthouse of Cape Hatteras. Then the short white lighthouse of Ocracoke. The next one should have been the white lighthouse with the single black stripe that stood on the northern end of Swans Landing.
Only it hadn’t yet appeared.
Maybe I was wrong. Maybe I had miscalculated, or gotten my estimates mixed up.
Why couldn’t I find the island where I’d lived my entire life?
“It should be here,” I said to the others, unable to meet their gaze as they watched me.
“What should?” Sailor asked. Her eyes were wide and she looked like she was on the verge of breaking down. She was known for her epic tantrums, but she had been through a lot in the last five months and this second swim across thousands of miles of ocean was probably wearing her down.
“The island,” I said softly.
“What do you mean?” Callum asked, stopping Sailor before she could speak again. He stayed close to her, as he had done for most of the swim. Sometimes he fell behind because he didn’t have a full tail like the rest of us. In his human form, his right leg had been cut off just above the knee. In his finfolk form, half of his tail ended in scarred edges. “Where is the island?”
I shook my head. “I don’t know. I remember all the places we saw along the way when we first left. I kept track of the lighthouses, because they were the easiest landmarks to spot from the water. I counted them as we swam and estimated the distance between each one. We should have passed Swans Landing already.”
Callum and Sailor stared at me, neither one speaking as the words hung in the air like the mists over the water. A bird cawed somewhere above our heads, lost in the clouds. Coral didn’t look too worried. She only hummed softly to herself, the sound barely audible.
“You must be wrong,” Sailor said finally. “We’re not there yet.”
“Maybe we passed too far out to see the light,” I said. But the light from the Swans Landing Lighthouse was meant to be seen far out in the water, which was known as the Graveyard of the Atlantic. The lighthouses provided a warning for ships and we should have been close enough to the islands to easily see the light.
Except that the fog hanging over the water was as thick as a woolen blanket. It was hard to see even more than a few feet away.
“Let’s swim back the way we came,” Callum said. He grimaced as he spoke, and I knew swimming for so long wasn’t easy for him with his damaged tail. But he hadn’t complained at all and had kept up as best he could. There was no other choice. If he had fallen behind or if we had slowed down for him, it would give Domnall and the other finfolk the chance to catch up.
We had to reach Swans Landing before they did. We had to warn everyone what was coming.
“Let’s keep swimming,” I agreed.
I estimated the distance we swam in my head as we headed back in the other direction. If we went too far, we’d end up in Ocracoke, the island just north of Swans Landing. Our home was the most remote of the inhabited islands along the Outer Banks, accessible only by a ferry that ran between the island and the mainland three times a day.
Unless you happened to be finfolk, of course. Then the ferry schedule didn’t have much hold over you.
I reached for the heavy iron bar that I had tucked into the belt of my wet robe. It looked like an ordinary twisted piece of metal, but it was much more than that. It was the key that had led us to Hether Blether on the other side of the ocean. It had guided us when we most needed help.
We need help now,
I thought as I gripped the key in my fist. The key was tied to the finfolk lands, but I didn’t know if Swans Landing counted. It was inhabited by both finfolk and humans, and had never had a tie to the finfolk homeland like Hether Blether did.
But at the moment, we needed all the help we could get.
As we swam, I let my mind wander and think about home. Sitting on the beach at Pirate’s Cove. My mom, smiling and happy when she had one of her good days. Playing my guitar in front of Moody’s Variety Store on Friday nights. The sound of the finfolk singing from the water on Song Night.
The warmth of Mara Westray in my arms.
I ached for home so badly that I could see it in front of me, the little village rising from the mists like a mirage. The clang of the morning ferry as it got ready to depart the island echoed over the water.
“There it is!” Sailor exclaimed.
I blinked, focusing on the shape in the mists ahead of me. Where there had been only gray sky a moment ago, now recognizable forms appeared solid and real. The lighthouse blinked across the water, over the tops of the trees and houses that surrounded it.
I couldn’t help letting out a whoop before I dove under the water, swimming as hard as I could toward the island. I flicked my tail, sending up an explosion of bubbles all around me. I twisted and turned, bucking and diving under the water as elation spread through me.
We were home. We had made it. We had beat Domnall. Everything would be all right now.
I surfaced again to stare into the distance, sure that when I looked again the island would be gone. But there it was still, waiting for us to reach it, the pull of the earth becoming stronger inside me, calling me home—
“Josh!” Sailor’s shout pierced the air, tearing my gaze away from the island ahead of me. I spun around in the water to look at her.
But Sailor wasn’t looking at me. She stared at something to my left, her eyes wide and her face paler than before.
I turned just in time to see the gray tip of a fin slice through the water before it disappeared under the surface. Before I had a chance to even blink, the searing pain of teeth piercing my arm exploded through my body.
Teeth ground into my bones as I struggled to get free, letting out a strangled cry. As I flailed, hitting the shark with the finfolk key still clutched in my other hand, I could see that it wasn’t a large shark, but it was large enough. It certainly had teeth big enough to do damage.
Callum swam to my side, grabbing my other arm with one hand and then beating at the shark’s nose with his free hand. The shark bit down harder, thrashing in the blood-stained water. All the time that I had swam in my life, I had never worried about being mistaken for food by another sea creature. Maybe it was the human part of me that still thought of myself as separate from the rest of the ocean life, but I knew now that I was wrong. Here in the ocean, I wasn’t the fastest or strongest creature, maybe not even the smartest. In the cycle of life under the water, I was just another prospective meal for any number of creatures.
My superiority had come to an end as the shark’s teeth bit deeper into muscle and bone.
Callum drew back his hand and punched the shark hard in the side of its head. The world spun as a wave of dizziness washed over me.
Callum’s punch must have stunned the shark just enough that it let go. Callum snatched me back, pulling me behind him as he struggled to swim toward shore. Sailor and her mother were already ahead of us.
Red rivers flowed behind us as Callum pulled me toward the island. I glanced down at my arm, then squeezed my eyes shut when nausea washed over me. I needed to swim, but my body was slow to respond to my commands. Gashes ran down my upper arm, open to reveal red muscle underneath. It was bad, I could tell that much just from the quick glance I’d had.
“Can you change form?” Callum grunted when we were close to land.
Dizziness washed over me again. Surprisingly, my arm didn’t hurt so much anymore. But that was a bad thing, wasn’t it? I tried to remember everything I’d learned about injuries in health class. Shock. I should be worried about going into shock. My vision blurred for a moment and I blinked, trying to find something to focus on.
“Josh?” Callum’s face appeared in front of me. “Josh, listen to me. You’ll be all right, aye okay? Just follow me.”
I nodded and tried to swim, but my tail didn’t work right. It felt detached from the rest of me.
Sailor swam out toward us, leaving her mother closer to the shore. “Is he okay?” she asked.
“I think he’s going into shock,” Callum told her. “He’s badly hurt.”
Their voices sounded far away and the world darkened for a moment. I floated on the water, my body suddenly feeling much colder, like ice had been dumped on top of me.