Sunday, July 17, 2016
1st 5 Pages July Workshop - Stringfellow Revision 2
Name: Lisa Stringfellow
Genre: Middle Grade Fantasy
Title: Dark Tide
12-year-old Kela never imagined, “I hate you,” would be her last words to her mother and after her death, Kela would do anything to take it back. Powerless to change the past, she only finds solace in jewelry-making and the sea. While scuba diving, Kela salvages a mysterious box containing a beautiful hair comb. When she touches it, a magical connection opens to a dangerous mermaid named Ophidia. The comb is Ophidia's soul, the immortal spark she took from a human long ago, and without it, she will dissolve into sea foam.
Bound by rules of magic, Ophidia offers Kela a wish in exchange for her comb’s return. With only three days to return the comb, Kela accepts and wishes her mother back from the dead, but soon learns that magic has consequences. Overjoyed at her return, Kela watches her mother sink into depression, the aftermath of being torn away from her soul. But before Kela can help her or keep her end of the bargain with Ophidia, the comb is stolen. As time runs out, Kela must find the thief and brave the mermaid’s wrath, or risk losing her mother again.
Kela leaned forward slightly, resisting the heavy tug of the bright yellow scuba tank.
“Are you ready?” Her father’s strong, ebony hands rechecked the straps of her equipment.
“I think so, Pop.” She released her grip on the gunwale of the boat and flexed her stiff fingers.
“Just like old times then. Take your time and lean back when you’re ready.” He squeezed her shoulder. “I’ll be right behind you.”
Her mask felt warm and familiar as she put it on and took a steadying breath. It’s not going to bring her back. The little voice inside protested as it had this morning when she found another note from Pop asking her to come diving. But staying away hadn’t made 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. The dizzying somersault lasted only a moment but not the sensation of being dragged down. Years of practice couldn’t stop the impulse of her arms and legs to fly out, to refuse being swallowed. She willed herself to stay calm, not to fight, and relaxed her body into the sea’s embrace.
Exhaling long and slow, Kela emptied her lungs and felt her body drop. She adjusted her speed and repeated the process until the dive computer on her wrist displayed the right depth.
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 little, Kela learned to snorkel with Mum and Pop in shallow reefs off the coast. Even when she was old enough to help Pop run trips with tourists, diving reminded her of family. Now, she wasn’t sure anymore. Pop beckoned her towards the reef, trying to close the void between them. Even below the water, this seemed the way of things. She conceded this time and moved closer.
Despite two months away, her body remembered what to do. She twisted slightly 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 wished she could put them back together too. But you can’t, the little voice hissed.
Kela swam on.
Pop pointed to a spotted cleaner shrimp picking its way across the tentacles of an anemone and scavenging 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 needed more for her jewelry-making but thinking about Mum made her search harder for the one that would complete their collection. Normally reefs were great for collecting, predators casting the leftovers of their meals outside their holes, but not today.
A sound penetrated the silence, a faint warbling hum. Barely audible, but Kela could definitely hear it. Her eyes scanned the shadowy waters, but she wasn’t sure from where it was coming. Or if it was even real. Pop swam just ahead and didn’t seem to notice anything.
Kela kicked away from the coral forest towards open sea, making sure Pop could still see her. 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 rare 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.
The warbling sound thrummed louder and more insistently. Kela’s head snapped up. 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. Her father was 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 salvage items were different. She wondered if the earthquake had dislodged it from wherever it had been buried.
Small and crumbling, the box seemed harmless, but she wanted to know what was inside. Kela’s brow creased. Pop wouldn’t like it, but he was the one who had pushed her to come. Adrenaline pulsed as she hesitated then quickly shoved it into her bag.
A sudden pressure on her shoulder forced her to take a sharp intake of breath and she jerked around. Pop 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. Just like with Mum. It’s always what you want, the 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.