Sunday, July 3, 2016
1st 5 Pages July Workshop - Stringfellow
Name: Lisa Stringfellow
Genre: Middle Grade fantasy
Title: Dark Tide
Kela leaned forward slightly, working against the heavy tug of the bright yellow scuba tank.
“Are you ready?” Pop asked, his ebony hands testing the straps of her equipment.
“Yes,” her voice carrying more certainty than she felt.
“Just like old times then. Take your time and lean back when you’re ready. I’ll be right behind you.”
She put her mask on and took a steadying breath. How can you be here without her? The little voice inside protested as it had this morning when she found Pop’s note asking her to come diving with him. It won’t be the same. But the gentle rock of the waves told her that she had made the right decision. She belonged in the water and abandoning that was one loss too many. Tucking her chin and holding onto her mask and regulator, she let the weight of the tank flip her backwards into the warm Caribbean.
Panic grabbed her at impact. Even her training couldn’t suppress the natural impulse of her arms and legs to flail, to resist being swallowed. The dizzying somersault lasted only a moment but not the sensation of being dragged down. She willed herself to stay calm, not to fight. Second by second, her body relaxed into the sea’s embrace.
Underwater the silence deafened her like an explosion of hush. Fish darted like silver bullets through the mirror world beneath the surface. No splashing or shrill gull cries pierced this side of the water. Fifty feet above her, the ceiling shimmered of glass and light, and she basked in the absence of sound. Nothing intruded except what she brought with her: the movement of her body through the water, the rhythmic intake of her breathing, and the percussion of her heart.
An underwater forest pulsed in a kaleidoscope of color and texture. Reefs were a living boneyard; coral polyps wore their skeletons on the outside and built their homes on the backs of their ancestors. Her throat tightened at the beauty she had missed.
When she was three, Kela had learned to snorkel in the shallows, and later helped her father during day trips with tourists. His patience and easy way made him a great dive instructor. Noting movement to her right, she saw him beckoning, trying to close the space between them. Even below the water, this seemed the way of things. She conceded this time.
Her body remembered what to do, and she made a slight twist towards the sea floor. A jagged cluster of rocks jut from the reef, broken coral scattered. An earthquake? She’d have to confirm that guess with Pop, but she knew there had been some tremors recently. This part of the Caribbean was prone to them. I bet you never saw it coming though, Kela thought looking at the sad shattered pieces of coral.
As she swam close to her father, he pointed. A spotted cleaner shrimp picked its way across the tentacles of an anemone, scavenging bits of food. Other citizens of the reef weaved in and out among the formations; flying gurnards with their large eyes and winglike fins, sandpapery filefish with neon scrawls across their flanks, and sharp angled jackfish prowling for prey.
She drifted away from the coral forest towards open sea. Safety required they stay within each other’s line of sight, but she was looking for more. Careful to avoid stings from urchins or scorpion fish concealed in the sand, she searched the sea floor. A glint of blue finally caught her eye.
It wasn’t a shell, only tinted sea glass with edges smoothed by the tide. Its translucent color made it a lucky find. Kela tucked it in her dive bag. She picked up a small brown shell and watched spindly legs and antenna pull back out of sight. She stroked its smoothness then gently put it back. She hated divers who killed creatures just for their shells. It meant there would be fewer for everyone to find in the future. A life should be worth more than a pretty trinket.
A few feet ahead, an angular shape jut out of the sand. It didn’t look like rocks or trash that had had settled to bottom. It was small but definitely out of place.
She glanced to see where Pop was. He moved just beyond the rocks and broken coral. As she turned back to the shadowy shape, the water felt unnaturally cold. Her skin pricked underneath the neoprene wet suit as she kicked forward. Her hand floated undecided for seconds before finally pulling it from the coarse grit.
It was just a box. A little bigger than the size of her hand and completely battered. Nothing but barnacles and sea-worn wood, its hinges oozed a rusty red. A tiny keyhole stared from its center.
She turned it over in her hands and shook but nothing betrayed its contents.
Kela looked back over her shoulder and saw her father still exploring the reef, but getting closer. There were rules about what you could take during a dive and until now she had never questioned them.
Small and crumbling, the box seemed harmless, but she had the feeling that there was more beneath the surface. It wanted to be found. Adrenaline pulsed as she slipped it into her bag.
A sudden pressure on her arm forced her to take a quick intake of breath. It was Pop. He squeezed his hand into a fist next to his chest, his gesture indicating he was getting low on air. He then made a thumbs up. It was time to surface.
In matched strokes, they kicked up towards the boat. It didn’t bring her back, the nagging voice whispered. Kela tried to ignore it, but guilt still pinched. No matter how hard she wished, choices could not be taken back. As she followed Pop’s long shadow towards the bright ball of light above, she hoped she had made the right one this time.
The light faded as Ophidia plunged her arms into every murky corner, her tail thrashing in her search. But the silence told her that her soul was gone.
Souls were not carried about like common belongings. Neither could they be crammed into hollow spaces between flesh and bone. They were too fragile and precious to risk on that. So, she had hidden it.
When the moon rose fat and high, spilling its milk into the water, she came. For centuries, she had made this pilgrimage to the cold solitude of the deep to make sure her soul was safe.
Lost or taken? The fact that she breathed confirmed it still existed. As her raw hands throbbed, she only knew the cavern was empty.
Even in the blackest trench, she could hear the sea’s voice, rolling and endless. She was not alone.
“Calm yourself, daughter,” it crooned. Its quiet voice resonated power. “You are not new-spawned.”