Sunday, July 10, 2016
1st 5 Pages July Workshop - Stringfellow Rev 1
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?” her father asked, his strong, ebony hands testing the straps of her equipment.
“I think so, Pop.” Her voice carried 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.”
Her mask felt warm and familiar as she put it 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. 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 staying away hadn’t made the memories or the hurt go away. 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. Years of practice couldn’t stop the impulse of her arms and legs to fly out, 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.
Fish darted like silver bullets through the mirror world beneath the surface. Fifty feet above her, the ceiling shimmered of glass and light, and she basked in the absence of sound. No splashing or shrill gull cries pierced this side of the water. 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 and moved his way.
Her body remembered what to do, making a slight twist towards the sea floor. A jagged cluster of rocks jut from the reef, broken coral scattered. Earthquakes weren't uncommon in this part of the Caribbean and Kela remembered the strong tremors just last week. A rumble had rattled the windows and walls in the house and she had looked up in time to see the picture in freefall. With her arms around Kela and her broad smile frozen in time, the photo of her mother exploded in glass and wood as it hit the floor. Kela now looked at the sad shattered pieces of coral and she wished she could put them back together too. But you can’t, the little voice hissed.
Kela swam on.
She saw Pop point to his left. 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.
Kela looked for shells. She always needed more for her jewelry-making but thinking about that broken picture frame increased the urgency she felt to find the one she wanted most. Normally reefs were a great place to search, predators casting the leftovers of their meals outside their holes, but not today.
Something needled at Kela’s attention. After a moment she realized a sound had penetrated the silence. It was barely audible, but she could definitely hear something. A faint warbling hum. Her eyes scanned the shadowy waters off the reef but she couldn’t tell from where it was coming. Or if it was even real. She looked at Pop. He swam just ahead and didn’t seem to notice anything strange.
Kela kicked away from the coral forest towards open sea. Safety required they stay within each other’s line of sight, but she thought she’d have more luck searching away from the reef. 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.
Her heart sank. 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.
Kela’s head snapped up. The hum was back. The warbling sound thrummed louder and more insistently. Looking around, she noticed an angular shape in the sand a few feet ahead. It didn’t look like rocks or trash that 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.
The hum stopped.
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. Shells were fine in this area, but this was different. She wondered if the earthquake had dislodged it from wherever it had been buried.
Small and crumbling, the box seemed harmless, but she knew there was more beneath the surface. It wanted to be found. Adrenaline pulsed as she hesitated then quickly shoved it into her bag.
A sudden pressure on her arm forced her to take a sharp 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, words could not be unsaid or choices 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 fin thrashed in her search.