Dedicated to my mother – Brenda,
for being my guiding light in a world full of negativity,
for always reminding me that all things are possible.
The cruise ship let the horn rip as The Odyssey glided out of the dock creaking and groaning towards the Indian Ocean. Seagulls and pelicans soared on the wind currents dodging one another while diving into the water for fish. Loved ones shouted their farewells and adieus’ on this bright, sunny summer afternoon. I stared at the crowd gathered by the harbor, not recognizing anyone. Not that I had expected to, I’ve been alone in my life for a very, very long time and it suited me just fine.
“Piper!” I heard my name yelled by a bunch of voices and felt myself grinning from ear to ear, maybe not as alone as I had thought.
I scanned for their faces among the sea of others. They were all here.
Every single one of them as happiness flooded me from top to bottom even grumpy old man Kitch managed to show up to say goodbye.
I focused on my main group of friends. Taylor D and Katie waved at me. I would miss them listening to music and singing like maniacs 24/7. Jackie, Shannon and Courtney were jumping up and down even at five in the morning which helped wake me up for school like my own personal alarm clock. I was going to miss their energy.
Emily, Rachel, Lindsey and Brooke stood huddled beside each other. They were always there when I needed a shoulder. Kristin smiled back at me. I would miss her sarcastic comments and stubbornness.
I spotted Luke, Gavin, Charlie, and Dustin in the crowd holding a good luck banner. I would never forget them jamming on their guitars making up lyrics around the bonfire coming up with the most ridiculous songs and their crazy parkour skills. Thody, Evan, Shawny P, Spencer, Veensy and Keegan gave me the thumbs up.
Taylor T and Jordi, my wildchild hippies saluted me with peace signs. Jamie looking close to tears always kept me informed on the comings and goings of the group, the juiciest gossip, nothing got past her. If you had a problem, we all went to her. When my eyes landed on Jolene, I sucked in a breath trying to keep it together. She nodded at me with the same feeling. I had known her the longest. I would miss her the most. She’s the most considerate and thoughtful person, always listening never asking for anything in return. One of the best gift givers you’ll ever meet always trumping me at Christmas.
Even the St. Mary’s Boys Boarding School across the way showed up. I didn’t see them often, but I would miss them just as passionately. Devo, Eric, J,D., Nick, Conn, Schmitty, Millsy and Crazy Eyes all waved to me from the harbor. They used to take me out to the country to go mudding making me cry tears of laughter.
I felt my heart strings tug painfully; trying to keep my emotions at bay by reminding myself that leaving Australia was a good thing. They had become my family not in blood, but in bond. We all came from similar situations being stuck in Harmon Boarding School: some of us were troubled, some of us wanted to be there and others like me didn’t have a choice. There were so many kids crammed in Harmon, all of us sardines packed away.
I was happy to see them one last time, knowing that later tonight they would sit down in the huge common room in our dorm watching TV/movies like we usually did on weeknights and my spot would be empty.
My stomach knotted and tightened thinking I should have just stayed where I was. So many memories, they all showed me that no matter how tough things got in life, they would always be there for me. They would turn the worst of days into the best of days. Without any of them, my life wouldn’t have been the same. Leaving them for my biological family who had forgotten all about me, didn’t seem right. I took a deep breath and waved back to them feeling my eyes tear up.
I could feel the spray of the salty sea air on my face as the ship got farther and farther away from land. I let the tears leak out without caring who saw it. I would probably never see them ever again. Half of my spirit was here the other half was heading back to Harmon with my friends. I didn’t want to leave the only life I had ever known to head into this new foreign one I was about to begin. I was scared.
Taking a sharp inhale, I squashed down my apprehension and let excitement bubble up inside of me instead. Travel had never been an option for me growing up. In fact, I had been on a plane only once, from Florida to Australia, when I was shipped off to Harmon at the tender age of eight.
This ship was so fancy: glass elevators, a nightclub, casinos, bars, mahogany floors, glittering lights, a huge theatre for shows and three pools on the top deck. It was easy to get lost in the beauty of it. It was going to be a long boat ride, hopefully, there will be people my own age on board. I looked around for any sixteen year olds, but didn’t have any luck. My eyes did land on a sign that showed all the restaurants and buffet locations. I felt myself get all warm and fuzzy inside. Now, this was my idea of heaven. By the time I get off this ship, I was going to be so fat, I wouldn’t be able to fit through a door frame. I laughed as I passed by a gym on my right knowing there was no way I was going in there.
I was currently in the main shopping district – the most populated – with people popping in and out of stores, bumping into one another with a cacophony of noise echoing down the one large hall.
My cabin was on the seventh floor. Thinking that was as good a place as any to begin my adventure, I trotted to the elevator and hit the button watching it light up. I stepped in and it shot me towards my desired location, with an excellent view of the plaza. I walked down hallways, got lost a few times, until I came across room number 782.
I fished my keycard out of my purse and getting the green light in response to my keycard, I opened the door expecting a big comfy bed only to be greeted by a lonely single bed with a flat pillow and scrawny sheets. What I had thought to be a closet turned out to be the tiniest bathroom imaginable. A swan made from a bath towel laid neatly on my bed. A small porthole provided me with a view of the sea. This is what I’m going to be sleeping in for the next century?
My five black bulging luggage bags sat neatly by my bedside. It was all I could bring on this one way trip back home. I had sold all of my other belongings. Piper Hayes was written clearly in red on all five of them so I could spot them easily. I gave a side-long glance towards the dresser lining the wall and decided best to pretend it wasn’t there. Unpacking was just as tedious as packing. I stared at the room in distaste. Only the best from my step-mother I thought sarcastically. I grimaced at the thought of calling her mother.
I let out a breath of irritation, trying to think on the positive side. I was not going to let her take away my excitement at the prospect of coming home. Home, sounded like such a foreign word to me as my heart ached at the thought. It rolled strangely off my tongue, a word I had always dreamed about, but never dared to say out loud. Everything was going to look so different from eight years ago that it had me a little nervous. I was lucky enough not to have developed an Australian accent from staying there for so long, but it never felt like home. It felt more like camp, a very long camp.
I shook my head at how absurd this whole thing was, taking a cruise ship all the way to Florida, restlessness crept up and down my spine. That’s enough thinking for tonight. I found myself wanting to stay busy, needing to keep distracted. I changed out of my travel clothes and into a fresh pair of shorts and a halter-top. I walked out the door without much of a destination in mind. The country I had spent so much time on already seemed so far away. I watched the waves lap against the ship.
I walked down the hallways bumping into kids with frantic parents close behind. There were couples holding hands and kissing each other occasionally, laughter, music and smiles filled the halls. Feeling out of place, I went to where there was the most noise, and lo and behold I found a buffet. I entered and smiled as the waiter led me to a seat.
“Are you waiting for anyone?” he asked me politely.
“No, just me, thanks,” I answered. I sat down tactically debating what part of the buffet to dig into. My stomach prompted me into action skipping the salad and fruit sections. I had never been known for my healthy eating choices, hence, why I was slightly overweight but it was worth the sacrifice. Coming back to my table with my plate heaping, I thought about how I wasn’t going to have to eat alone. Soon, I was going to have family dinners. I felt my palms sweat slightly and my mouth go dry at such a notion. I shouldn’t be this anxious when it came to being around my family. I took a drink of water and stuck my fork into some pasta salad, chewing slowly and mechanically as my mind wandered.
I had only been three years old when my parents decided to divorce making me an only child. They had me when they were young in their late teens. I was too little to really remember much about it. I ended up living with my mom and visiting my dad on weekends and throughout the week. The first one to remarry two years later was my Mom. She married a man named, Mike Campbell, who was ten years older than her and with him came three rambunctious boys: Carl, Luke and Zack. The trio of doom, I had called them in those brief few years I got to know them. Zack (the youngest of the three) was a year older than me. Carl and Luke were a few years older than both of us. Their mother had died from cancer a few years before Mom met Mike.
My memories of everyone were hazy, to say the least. I remembered that snitching got you nowhere, wrestling matches were constant, the basement was the boy’s domain, the fridge was a barren wasteland and milk bags were constantly empty. The house was always a mess. Once those boys moved in, it didn’t take me long to beg my mother to let me go live with my dad who was only ten minutes away. She reluctantly bent to my wishes. She had enough on her plate with the three boys. Going from one child to four would shock anyone’s system.
Dad married a woman a year after. She was a few years younger than him named Madison and with Madison came the day – a year after their marriage – that I went to Harmon Boarding School, countries away from Florida and out of their lives forever. I felt like I was some kind of disease. I was eight years old, what was I suppose to think? That it was going to be a long vacation? What was once freedom soon became a prison that I could never escape. It’s hard to accept the fact that you’re not wanted.
Once Madison sunk her claws into my dad, he was ensnared, whatever she said her word became law. He believed anything she wanted him to believe. I never had the guts to tell my parents my true feelings, that I missed being at home feverishly. No one else had to go to a boarding school, not Madison’s little girl, Hannah or my three step-brothers, just me. I started wondering what it was that I could possibly have done wrong. Over the years, I gave up any hope of ever getting the chance to come home. They were all so busy with their perfect lives. I had felt forgotten, shoved to the back of their minds.
When my parents split up, they were so young they deserved another shot at love, even if that arrow from cupid didn’t include me. Hurt coated my insides at memories I had been trying to suppress. I stabbed at a piece of chicken with more vigor than necessary.
Suddenly, no longer in the mood to eat – which was a rarity – I retreated to the warm confines of my bed sheets and changed into my pajamas. Silk pajama pants and a tank top topped off with a baggy sweatshirt. I lounged on my bed reaching for the most amazing thing in the whole room: the remote control. The TV was puny, but it was better than nothing. I began to channel surf to my hearts’ content. After two hours of seeing nothing but commercials, I decided I wasn’t ready to retire to glorious sleep just yet and decided to go for a stroll. Maybe, reality of actually being here would sink in.
I walked by a souvenir store and entered in through a bead curtain. This part of the ship was deserted. With the magic show going on in the theatre, it had caught most of the traveler’s attention tonight. I didn’t care how ridiculous I looked in my pajamas, I was the only one in here. No sales person was in sight.
Lights and chimes coated the ceiling. I bumped and clanged my way around the small store. It had weird gifts like pentacles and magic crystal balls, odd for a cruise ship, not a souvenir in the place. I went further into the store. Lavender incense saturated the room. It had a weird fortune teller/ hippie vibe going for it. Different from the other memento shops, I had visited earlier in the day. I passed by a wall of mirrors and adjusted my wavy brown hair, my hazel eyes and tan face staring back at me.
I stepped back away from the mirror and ended up bumping into a few small jugs sending them crashing off the table. I squeezed my eyes tight cringing as every jug shattered on the floor. I looked around for witnesses, seeing none, I kicked the fragments under the table and walked away feeling like a bull in a china shop when something sparkly caught my attention. I headed towards the cash register to where all the jewelry was set up. The pieces were shimmering and winking at me brightly. Feeling slightly like a crow that couldn’t resist, I began examining necklaces, rings, bracelets and earrings.
I felt a tug of recognition when my eyes landed upon a necklace with a shiny gold chain and a medium-sized golden amulet hanging off the end of it. It was circular with strange markings along the edges and stuck smack dab in the middle were pink and blue crystals, so fine they almost looked like sand or powder. Clear glass outlined in thick silver, sealing the crystals in place.
Madison had a necklace just like this one but it wasn’t blue and pink it was black. She had always claimed it was a family heirloom. She never let me hold it let alone touch it. I smiled, now I would have one of my own. Beside it was another replica except it was red and orange.
I heard a slow shuffling sound behind me, making goose bumps crawl up my whole body. How long had somebody been watching me without making an introduction? I turned around and yelped. The store owner was right behind me.
Her white hair was tied back in a tight bun, she had a crooked nose like a witch with wrinkles covering her face from old age making her look more like a shriveled up raisin than a person. She was a gangly thing with her back hunched over as she leaned on her cane. Her nails were long and untrimmed. She was not familiar with the term “personal space.” I wrinkled my nose, her odor wasn’t exactly pleasant.
She cackled mirthfully, making the hairs on the back of my neck rise giving me the urge to want to flee the store but not without the necklace. I kept picturing the look on Madison’s face when she would see that I had the same necklace. How it would grate on her nerves that she would have something identical to her dear old step-daughter, especially something as treasured as her necklace. It was always around her throat; she never took it off.
“How much is this?” I stammered, pointing to the necklace.
“That’s something that no money could ever buy.” The old lady eyed me up freely, a sour look on her face with a voice that sounded as if she smoked a pack of cigarettes a day.
“What do you mean?” I asked, surprised that I might get something for free in this money hungry world.
“You can have it for free…but there’s a price to pay,” she said eerily.
Why is she talking in riddles? I hate it when people do that. This lady had fallen off her rocker one too many times.
“I don’t understand,” I said hesitantly. I looked around wondering if this was some kind of joke, if the real owner was around a corner ready to yell ‘surprise!’ No such luck.
When I asked her again, she would just kept giving me different answers in more riddles all of them adding up to the same result. I couldn’t figure out any of them. Some of the things she was saying was “the choice is yours, but it could be your last” or “with great power comes great disaster” and “happiness and joy may prosper, but sorrow and deceit shall wander.” She just kept going on and on, I didn’t know what she was talking about, but the room seemed to take on a macabre feeling the more she continued to talk.
I reached out and grabbed the necklace, wondering, if I held it maybe it would get her to shut up. My palm was pressing against the circular part. My body stilled, frozen in time. It felt like it had taken hold of me and the crystals inside of it started to glow. Slightly freaked out, I tried dropping it but it stayed glued to the palm of my hand.
“Why is it like that?” I asked, wobbly, feeling chills racing up and down my spine at how abnormal this all was. I looked up and the old lady was gone. I looked back down at the necklace and the glowing had stopped, thankfully, calming my racing heart. I slipped the necklace over my head not feeling quite like myself. I must have been imaging things. I heard her voice cackling once more, I looked up and found myself staring at the wall of the cruise ship, looking at no store at all. I jumped startling a couple that had walked by, looking at me like I was a crazy person. I felt the walls to make sure it was solid, the necklace around my neck was proof enough that a store had been there. I felt weak and drained, unsure of what to make of any of this. Getting the jitters, I decided it was best not to stay out in the open looking like a mad woman. I ran for the safety of my cabin.
Gasping for air, clutching my chest and the railing, I had to stop and walk the rest of the way. I guess that’s what I get for laughing at the gym earlier. Stars peppered the night sky, the full moon suspended high in the air. I heard whales breaching the surface, their blowholes spouting water, causing me to stop in my tracks and watch them. The whales were close to the ship, their outlines barely noticeable in the moonlight. They floated along lazily oblivious to any of us. I felt a pang of envy go right through me, must be nice not to be bothered by any of life’s problems.
Two men, dressed in black suits leaned on the railing five feet away from me. One was heavyset, tall and built like a brick house with a brown military haircut. The other one was small and stocky. He had long black hair that was tied back in a pony, scruff lined his jaw with a jagged scar going down the length of his face. Feeling more than a little uncomfortable with how close they were to me, it abruptly made me realize how utterly alone I was on this section of the ship. They didn’t strike me as the whale watching type.
My gut instinct had me walking away from them faster than my brain could connect with my feet. They followed closely behind me. I took a deep breath thinking to myself, that it was just a very big coincidence. I turned a few corners hoping, they would take a different route, but no such luck. After the whole souvenir shop incident this was making me really paranoid. I picked up my pace. I heard their feet hasten to catch up to me. A stiff breeze lifted ponytail guy’s coat loose from around his waist, and as I glanced back, I saw a gun poking out. My heart leapt into my stomach. My eyes widened in surprise and fear. I took off at a dead run heading towards the casino.
I was hoping to lose them in the crowd, with all the whirling lights and rows of poker tables to throw them off. I zigzagged through slot machines and people with smiling faces, the casino sucking away their money, oblivious to the peril I was in. I knew I wasn’t imagining things. I ducked behind a statue trying to catch my breath. I should have asked someone for help, they must have security on a ship this size. I poked my head around the corner of the love goddess, Aphrodite, as they raced by. Relief coursed through me. Now if I can only get to my room unseen and to a phone I’ll contact the authorities, security or someone who can help me.
I made it to my door, the hall was empty. I’m safe. Shakily, I slid my key through the card lock and was halfway through the door and froze when I felt the cold hard metal of a gun pressed against the back of my head. I sucked in my breath, adrenaline rippling inside me and let out a scream, but no one heard it as a dirty rag was shoved into my mouth and my eyes were covered. My world turned pitch black.
I could feel my heart pounding and ears roaring. I tried not to panic. I heard the snick of a door opening, a hand touched my back roughly propelled me forward. I heard it lock. I ripped off my blindfold finding myself in a bathroom. Windowless and phoneless, unless I was Houdini, I was not going to be getting out of here anytime soon.
I began searching through the cupboards trying to find some type of weapon, but I was out of luck, it was spotless. My captor’s room must have been directly beside mine, I didn’t have far to walk. I put the lid down on the toilet and sat down, at a loss for what to do. I felt like such an idiot. Who did I think I was? Thinking that I could escape undetected by professionals, I should have stayed out in public. I was officially the dumb girl in all the scary movies that goes down the creepy staircase alone without calling for help or a weapon to protect myself. I fiddled with the necklace around my neck wondering if this is what had caused all the trouble. If so, I would freely give it to them, if they would let me go.
The white washed walls of the bathroom and the bright lights began to give me a headache, the hours crawled by. It could have been a half hour or it could have been five hours, time was not easy to judge. I had counted the tiles on the floor for what seemed like the 100th time. I heard my captors speaking as I pressed my ear to the door.
“I can’t believe we are doing this for a lousy $500,000. We could have gotten more,” grumbled one of the strangers with a gravelly voice and a slight lisp.
“I’ll admit it’s not one of our most exciting jobs,” came the southern drawl of the second stranger. “Just think of it this way, $500,000 to be bonafide babysitters. Ain’t too shabby is it?”
“Well now, I suppose it isn’t. Who do you think this girl is anyways?”
“Don’t be trying to get too familiar with the payload. Now shut yer trap and let’s try and get some shut eye, busy day in the morning, smuggling this girl off the ship for those pirates. They’re in charge of putting her on the black market just as Madison ordered.” My mouth dropped open and I felt my stomach plummet. I clapped a hand over my mouth to keep from yelling out.
“Sex trade will pay a pretty penny for her I’d imagine. A little on the chubby side, but they ain’t overly picky.”
After a few moments the chatter died down. I sat there on the lid of the toilet seat my mind pounding with the unexpected news. Did she really hate me that much? I knew it was too good to be true, but this is so extreme. I had to get out of here! I had to warn my father. I had to get him away from my psycho step-mother.
I remembered back to the first day I had met my stepmother. Madison had taken one look at me and it was no surprise, she didn’t like my muddy boots and crazy hair. How was I going to compete against her precious little girl? In her eyes, her daughter was perfect, where I was just incomplete, worthless, a nothing, but I was the only nothing stopping her from having Dad all to herself. I didn’t need her to say it. I could see it in her eyes, how much she wanted to dispose of me. She must have been planning this for months. I thought miserably. Here, I had thought, with being away for so long, that maybe things would be different. Apparently not, sadness threatened to drown me with such betrayal.
I tried to get my emotions in check. I haven’t spoken to her in eight years. How can she hate someone she doesn’t know? I felt so naïve thinking I was going to go home to a family who wanted me, obviously Madison would do anything to make sure I never returned home. She had the money to get her the resources she needed to make sure it never happened. Sometimes, when something seems too good to be true, it usually is. A lesson I always seem to forget. Why didn’t she just keep me in school, if she didn’t want me around? I needed to get to the police or security on this ship. Maybe they could helicopter me out of here, since I was in such a dangerous situation.
Madison would not know my whereabouts, I would meet my family on my terms when she least expected it. I shook my head at how absurd this was. She’s a model for magazines and catwalks not a killer, I reminded myself. There had to be some kind of reasonable explanation or miscommunication. Maybe, I heard it wrong. Regardless, I was still in this cruddy situation and it was time to act.
I began to sweat. I had never had any kind of conflict with anyone before. Ever. Physical or verbal, now I was about to do the opposite, I felt like puking. Scenarios of everything that could go wrong ran through my mind. I could die right here and right now. I didn’t know what these thugs were capable of. I’d never even been punched in the face before. I could be lights out in a matter of seconds, but I had to try something, anything, was better than being sold into sex slavery, death would even be preferable. I was still a virgin for crying out loud!
I needed to think of a plan for them to open the door. So far, they probably didn’t find me much of a threat. I cringed knowing I had to make a lot of noise.
Adrenaline coursed through me, I counted to three and smashed my right fist into the mirror above the sink hitting the glass harder then intended. Some pieces could be heard tinkling around and into the sink, other pieces cracked showing a million distorted images of my face. My fist began to bleed, a few mirror shards were embedded into my knuckles and two chunks had sunk into my arm close to my wrist. I felt my vision go hazy from staring at it. I grabbed at a larger chunk of glass with my left hand and wrapped the one end of the shard in a hand towel so the serrated edges wouldn’t cut into my palm in case I needed to use it as the world’s smallest knife. It wouldn’t kill anyone, but it would hurt.
“Help! Help! I’m bleeding,” I yelled, panic stricken, and banged on the door. I heard them get off the beds, swearing and mumbling. One unlocked the door, eyeing up my bloody hand through the crack to make sure I wasn’t lying. As soon as the door started to open wider, I kicked it with my foot putting all my weight into it, sending the ponytail guy spiraling backwards. He was shorter then I had expected making my attack bang on with his face.
I would never forget his grey eyes staring murderously at me, those dark bags underneath focusing his hatred. I paused for a second, horrified, watching the blood spurt all over his face. I had never seen a nose misshapen like that before. I mumbled a quick apology out of habit. I had damaged him more then I planned to. The other one was fumbling with his gun, I felt myself go milky white. Fear surged through me. He was going to get to the gun before I could get out the door. I kicked him in the groin, he dropped like a stone. They didn’t look quite as scary in their pajamas as they had in their suits earlier. I hastily unlocked the entrance door, wincing from the effort of my damaged knuckles, and took off.
My hand was leaving a nice trail of blood for them to track. I heard them in pursuit. I wasn’t about to start another game of cat and mouse. I needed off the ship, so I did the only sensible thing I could think of, which wasn’t sensible at all. I yanked on the orange ring buoy on the side of the railing, jumped over the guard rail and off the ship.
I heard the bullets whiz and zing through the water. I clawed my way up to the surface seeing nothing but darkness, hoping I wouldn’t get hit. The cruise ship was lit up like a Christmas tree. I latched onto the buoy sputtering. Each time a bullet hit the surface I wondered if this was going to be my last second alive.
The waves slapped against my skin. I watched the ship become only a spec in the distance, as fear threatened to overwhelm me. I tried to keep my wits about me, escape one danger and into another. If there was an award for the dumbest idea around, I’d be the winner. The ship would have been safer to stay on, but relief poured out of me from being away from those thugs. I shuddered and tried not to think of what was swimming underneath me at this very moment. My mirror dagger had fallen out of my hand when I fell into the water, unfortunately.
I looked at the necklace in distain, bobbing around in the water hanging around my neck. Scowling at it, I shouted, “This is all your fault!” I felt myself feel a little bit better at having something to blame for my current situation.
I was torn between keeping the necklace and letting it sink to the bottom of the ocean. Sighing, I double wrapped the chain around my neck so it was more like a choker then a necklace so I wouldn’t lose it in the water. I grabbed the white rope dangling from the buoy and tied it snugly around me, my only lifeline. I pulled on it to double check that it was secure, knowing my triple knots were next to useless, having zero knowledge in sailor knots.
My mutilated hand throbbed painfully from the cuts and the salt water. I took off my wet sweatshirt and laid it on the ring buoy putting my body weight on top of it so it didn’t float away. With shaking hands I pulled out the mirror shards by my wrist writhing in pain while trying not to faint at the sight of it. I plucked away at the bits embedded in my knuckles with my nails. I watched helplessly as the pieces flashed back at me through the water sinking into the depths.
Visions of sharks entered my mind. They were probably on their way to eat me right now.
I wrapped my sweatshirt around my injured hand tying it as tight as I could. It wouldn’t soak up the blood, but hopefully it would keep any more blood from dripping into the ocean. Luckily, it wasn’t too wavy tonight. I could keep my hand above water, uncomfortable but manageable. I needed a knife or a spear! I thought desperately, wishing I was one of those people that always carried a pocket knife.
After my heart slowed down to its regular rhythm, I came down to the cold hard fact that no one was going to be able to find me out here. I’d be dead within the day, heaven forbid if a storm erupted I’d be done for. Clutching my ring buoy I flutter kicked with gloomy thoughts hoping to find land, a boat, plane or a helicopter with nothing but the stars and moonlight to see by.
I felt the first rays of sunlight touch my skin. I was tired and drained after the night’s sleepless events. I couldn’t remember the last time I had went so long with no sleep.
I wiggled my injured arm, trying to get some blood flow back. I eyed it warily, making sure no blood dripped into the water or ran down my arm.
The sea surrounded me for miles and miles, I had never felt so insignificant in my life. Thirst pinched my insides as I licked my salty lips. I let out a surprised yelp as an electric eel stung me not for the first time. Tears welled in my eyes. I want to be back at Harmon.
I heard a splash off to the left of me. Panic rippled through me. It wasn’t a small splash, I began treading water nervously. I tried not to scream, as I heard something glide behind me. I whipped around and saw nothing, but endless amounts of water. Heart hammering in my chest, I felt myself beginning to get light headed. This is it, I thought.
Squeezing my eyes tight for the inevitable, a family photograph popped into my head. It was a picture of my mom and dad with me between them. We were smiling and happy. The picture was full of vibrant colors and sounds of us laughing echoed around our frozen figures. Then the picture darkened to black and white to the days just before the divorce of anger and hatred. I could hear laughter no longer but yelling matches. My family and I – in the photograph – turned lifelike, moving inside the picture. I was standing in the middle of the photograph, no longer happy, but confused as my parents argued; their smiles turning to scowls. My eyes teared up, I didn’t understand why the two people I loved most in the world didn’t love each other.
Then the yelling stopped. Soft voices of new people entered the scene cramming us all together, the black and white photo became colorful once again.
Madison stood by my dad on the right side of the photo. She had rich, long curly black hair, green catlike eyes and a smile that showed off a million white teeth. Hannah, my step-sister, stood beside her proudly; she was a miniature Madison in every way but without the plastic surgery.
Mike, my step-dad, stood beside my mom on the left side of the photo, his arms wrapped around her protectively, his three boys wrestled in front of them. Carl and Luke were tall with sandy blonde hair and brown eyes of caramel. Zack was the runt with brown hair, blue eyes and the palest complexion known to man.
I stood in the middle of both families split between my mom’s new life and my dad’s. My smile began to disappear as the picture began to tear right down the middle. It was ripping me apart, as the two happy families walked out of the photo and into different lives, leaving me torn and bleeding, unable to pick up the pieces.
Not wanting to see anymore, I forced my eyes open. I’d rather stare at the creature that was about to kill me than have to see that again. Nothing happened. No teeth marks plunging into me, no lost limbs, no blood, nothing. I felt hot breath on my shoulder and felt myself stiffen, I was being watched. From the shadow it appeared to be something very, very large. I swallowed and looked over my shoulder. I screamed and tried to swim away. It was the biggest snakelike creature I have ever seen and its head was just inches away from mine.
I felt the creature dive underneath me. I knew my efforts were futile. I kept swimming unable to think, unable to hear anything except the hammering of my heart. A forest green, scaly head and neck exploded out of the water towering over me.
Water rained down on top of me. I followed its long neck up to its massive refined head, green fins protruded where its ears would have been. Gills lined its long neck. Its tail floated around me constantly dipping over and under the waves in constant motion. Yellow horns stuck out all over its forest green scales from its nose to the tip of the tail. I knew the bulk of the creature was hidden under the water. I could feel its four long flippers spinning in the water keeping it afloat. Its massive body hovered just out of sight. Teeth greeted me as large yellow eyes bore into me. I began to see spots dance around my eyes and then I fainted.
I never really was much of a fighter.
I felt the rocking of the ship. I must have fallen asleep watching TV. Probably some scary TV show. Serves me right. What a wild dream. I groggily wiped the sleep out of my eyes. Clouds splattered the sky in all their fluffy goodness, the wind tugged on me gently, stirring my hair. I smiled happily which quickly formed into horror. This isn’t my cabin. I sat up quickly. I was stuck on top of a green rigid head with nothing, but turquoise water surrounding me. Four big yellow horns protruded from the head along with a handful of little ones. The green fins that looked like ears slapped against the sides of its face as we continued to bob along in the water.
I sat their dumbfounded and confused. Adrenaline pumped through me, waking me up. Why was I still alive? I contemplated my options. My options were, I had no options. I took a deep breath trying to calm my shaking hands, wishing I was a brave person. Maybe it’s a friendly sea monster. I reasoned to myself. How do I even broach this situation! I screamed in my head. I decided the best approach would be to just sit here quietly and hope the sea monster forgot all about me. I shook my head, pulling my knees up to my chest and resting my head on my arms, wanting nothing more than to breakdown and cry. I mumbled under my breath, not quite rational at this point, “I don’t suppose I could simply just ask this thing to turn around and take me back to Australia?”
I felt its head slowly shake back and forth in dissent. I paled thinking it was about to toss me back into the ocean as I wrapped my hands around two medium size horns to help stabilize me. “Sorry lassie, can’t be done.” She growled at me with a Scottish accent.
I was silent for a few moments wondering if the heat and dehydration was getting to me. The fact that she could kill me with just the swipe of her tongue seemed to elude me with the sound of her voice. I stuttered, “Beg pardon?” Are my ears working properly?
“I said… you can’t go back lassie,” she replied slowly, as if I was a child not understanding a math problem.
I blinked, and then I blinked again and shook my head digesting what I was seeing and hearing.
“Ack! Would you keep your hands still! You are giving me one mangy headache,” she snorted irritably.
I yanked my hands into my lap quickly. “Yes, Miss Sea Monster, whatever you say.” One big jerk of her neck and I’d be flying through the air. I plucked up the courage to ask one question. “Are you going to eat me?” I asked, touching the necklace around my neck one more time for good measure. “If you are, just get it over and done with please; this waiting to die thing really sucks.” I squeezed my eyes tight knowing I sounded much braver then I was feeling at the moment. I did not in fact want to be eaten anytime soon.
Her stomach rumbled. “You got gallus I’ll give you that! At first, I was craving a snack.” I felt my insides twist, she sounded as if she was still undecided. “Especially since I don’t get a chance to eat human much; you’re a rare delicacy in these parts. Too many tiny bones though, hard on my digestive system. What is said delicacy’s name?”
“Piper,” I said, feeling like I was sealing my fate. “And what kind of a delicacy are you?” I asked, in a shaky voice, wondering if there was something bigger that could attack us.
Her body rumbled in laughter. “I’m no delicacy. I’m at the top of the food chain. I’m no Fuath or Fideal not even a Nuggle. You have nothing to worry about. Ever heard of the Loch Ness Monster?”
“Sure, as a myth.”
“It’s not a myth. You’re looking at it.”
I raised a skeptical eyebrow. “Yeah right, and I’m the tooth fairy. It’s not possible. Aren’t you supposed to be in Scotland roaming a lake or something?” I found myself relaxing my guard.
I unwrapped my hand assessing the damage, the cut had scabbed over. I let the fresh air get at it, hoping it would help the healing process. In the light, it didn’t look nearly as bad as I had thought. There were a few nicks around my knuckles. The bigger cuts were going to scar.
She lifted her head in pride. “I am a warrior of the sea, but you can call me Murdina. I go wherever I want, whenever I please. My big brother is the one you humans like to call the Loch Ness Monster, but to me he’s known as Ness. We were both originally born in Scotland from two eggs. We are called sea drakes.
There are not many of our kind and those that do exist reside down deep in the oceans. Only a few of us linger close to the surface. We must travel halfway across the world to find our mates. Once we hatch our mothers do not linger long with their children, many of our kind don’t survive. We are fierce when fully grown, but a nice meal when we are young. Ness and I survived by looking out for one another. It is rare for two eggs to hatch in the same waters,” Murdina said passionately letting out a puff of smoke. It drifted towards me and I started to have a coughing fit.
“Don’t you miss being at home?” I asked, surprised that she would so willingly leave the place she grew up, meanwhile, all I’ve been trying to do my whole life was to get back home.
“Aye, but that’s Ness’s territory. When we were young we grew up playing together, but we grew too big, one of us had to leave. There wouldn’t be enough food to sustain both of us. Normally, when it comes to territory, it would come to blows, but he was bigger and he loved it there more then I.
He resides there happy and content.
You humans are right scunners, you are, always trying to capture him or hunt him down. Snapping pictures, every time he so much as tries to surface from the water. He is much bigger and fiercer and enjoys the chase. He enjoys the taste of human far more than I do.
If Ness had come upon you in these waters, necklace or not he’d be cleaning his teeth of your flesh right now. The ocean may be very beautiful, but for a wee little human like you it is deadly. What lies underneath these waters would make your blood curdle. Humans think they know everything, but they know nothing. They haven’t discovered any of the real sea life the ocean has to offer.”
Confusion filled my face. “What is so dang special about this necklace? All this thing has done is caused me bad luck. I’m tempted to just throw it away,” I said, beginning to take it off my neck.
“No!” Murdina growled, sending shivers down my spine. “It’s sacred.” She spoke almost with a frenzied desperation in her voice, the first sign of vulnerability I had seen out of her.
I swallowed timidly. If this necklace got her riled up, I wanted nothing to do with it. “Why?” I asked, twisting the amulet around skeptically.
“Because,” Murdina spoke defensively. “Whoever owns it will have two lives.”
“Two lives. How?”
“I don’t know much, but from the stories they say when you touch the amulet a piece of you gets sucked into it. The crystals inside represents your second life.”
“So my whole life is protected in this necklace. What if it gets put into someone else’s hands? Could they control my soul?” I blanched at the idea.
“No, but if you have the necklace, you have two lives. If removed from your body or hiding place you are reduced back to one life and the new owner’s life becomes two,” Murdina prattled on. “There is always a danger when you own such a piece of power. People and creatures have murdered for it.”
“Well isn’t this a good morning story,” I said sarcastically.
“Just making sure you know the dangers. Some chose to bury it and others keep it on them or close by. It’s your choice, by hiding it you run the risk of someone else finding it and not knowing if someone has taken the second life from you until it’s too late.
There are only three of them in existence in the whole world, but there have been rumors of a fourth.”
“Who has the three?” Could one of them be Madison’s? I didn’t want to think anymore; this was information overload.
“Many have created knock offs to fool the enemies, but I know for sure that one of the three belongs to the dark, evil witch, Syria. You might be our only hope of defeating her, but for now I must hide you until I can get someone to help.” Eagerness flared in her voice in a way I didn’t completely understand.
Defeating? Only hope? I don’t think Murdina was talking about a simple ping-pong match. I felt an overwhelming sense of pressure beginning to build up inside of me. “And the third one?” I asked, something was nagging at my mind, but I was unable to recall what it was.
She shrugged. “I don’t know, you’ll just have to sit tight. If we get the third necklace, then, we have the added advantage, and if we don’t and Syria has it, we’ll have to steal it. Either way, there will be war. If she combines the power of all three, she will be invincible. If she knows we have even one of them, war will be here faster than we expected.”
“War! You mean as in like World of Warcraft, like Halo war right?”
Murdina didn’t say a word. I suspected because she didn’t know that I was talking about video games that my friends played. “Because, if it’s not made up of pixels, gigabits and electrodes…” I rambled not even sure if they were even related to video games as I turned into hysterics. I ripped the necklace off my neck. “Here! Take it. I don’t want it. I’m not really cut out for war anyway. Have you seen the muscles on me? They’re more like limp noodles. I couldn’t fire a gun much less know how to use it. I can’t watch war movies. Heck I can’t even watch scary movie trailers without cringing.”
“Piper, let’s not think about this now, okay? The war isn’t going to happen for a while. Both sides are searching for the other necklace. For now, I want to keep you protected and get you to Shimmer Island. Don’t tell anyone about the necklace. It’s to be kept a secret. We have been searching for this necklace for as long as I can remember.”
“So I’m not going back to Australia?”
“Smart little hen, for a human.”
“I suppose I don’t get much say in the matter, do I?” I said a little miffed. I didn’t ask for this, all because I went into some stupid store. I was never going to get home. I was pouting, I knew it was childish, but I didn’t care.
“Hang on. I tire of the surface.” She set me in the water. I began swimming around, spitting the salt water out of my mouth not enjoying the taste. She disappeared under the water and I felt fear bubble up inside at the thought of being left alone. “Well, come on under, I can’t leave you here to become food for the fishes. Travelling underwater will be faster, now that you’re awake.”
“Murdina, I can’t breathe underwater.” Wondering suddenly where my buoy went to should I be left alone again.
“Just trust me and get your arse under the water.”
Not needing to be told twice, I dove under not sure what to expect. Looks like Murdina had it all figured out. I watched her select a small bubble and to my amazement she gently blew on it coaxing it into a bubble the size of my head. It then headed in my direction, and she wrapped it around my head allowing me to breathe.
“Don’t worry.” Murdina’s voice was loud and clear. “It won’t break at any time.”
I gave her a skeptical look not sure I could put my life in the hands of a shimmery bubble surrounded by tons of water pressing against it. As a test, I stabbed my finger as hard as I could into the bubble and it never popped. My body relaxed, and I stopped holding my breath. “What about my hand? Won’t it attract some unruly attention?” I pointed towards it.
“Probably not, but just so I don’t have to fight anything along the way…” she blew on a second air bubble and wrapped it around my hand.
I grabbed onto the horns and floated close to the surface for a bit. Dolphins swam alongside Murdina twirling around her, fearlessly. They were bubbly little things. I reached out, their skin slick to the touch. When the dolphins veered off she dove down into the bowels of the ocean.
The colors of the seabed mystified me. Pieces of coral poked out everywhere with fish darting in and out. Sting rays laid in the sand, flocks of sea turtles swam out of the way. Everything was so alive down here. Crabs and lobsters scuttled behind rocks. I had done a lot of snorkeling in Australia, and a lot of the sea life was familiar, but I had never been this deep.
Murdina was the predator in these waters and she knew it too. She swam with confidence. Fish steered clear of her path if they saw her in time. She opened her massive jaw and snapped at a school of multi-colored fish that were unfortunate enough to be in her path. The water became tainted with streams of red. Itried not to close my eyes; it was how she survived, but I couldn’t help it. Those poor fish, I squirmed. An eel headed my way, but Murdina tactically scared it off.
We swam past rocks as big as cars. Starfish climbed up caverns, and clams clung to rocks. Forests of seaweed littered the floor below as silver darts swam in and out. Far in the distance, I thought I could make out the shapes of whales.
I felt Murdina’s body freeze as she spied her target. I thought she was going after a big squid, but I looked past the squid to a shark, I gripped her horns tightly. Before I could even think, the chase began.
She chased the shark around the rock. I felt like I was sitting in a race car. This shark was no match for Murdina’s speed as she dominated the water. It was going to be an unfair match, a slaughter, and I found I pitied the shark. He didn’t have a prayer. He swerved to the right into an old sunken sailboat and hid. She flipped her tail and smashed the little boat in half. The shark frightened, darted out and Murdina snapped her jaws sinking her teeth into its flesh as it struggled to break free.
I had never witnessed the death of a large creature before. It was gruesome and gross. I watched the life vacate the shark’s eyes. I shuddered, hoping that was something I was never going to have to see again. It was an odd sight for me to watch. Growing up, sharks had always been top dog in the water, and to see it fleeing for its life was so unusual.
She left me floating on my own while she went to devour the rest of her meal.
She came back with a grin on her face, her stomach finally full. I assumed that meant she was done hunting, I reboarded her head as she took me back up to the surface. The sun was starting to set and the water was sparkling and calm. She looked around and up at the sky getting her bearings and continued back under the water.
I watched all kinds of different colorful fish blur before my eyes. My thoughts wandered to Mom and Dad for a while. Once all this island business was cleared up, everything would go back to normal again. It shouldn’t take long. I’d hand over the necklace to someone more capable then me and head back to Florida.
My eyelids grew heavy and I had no strength for words as my eyes drooped and like a light switch being flicked off I was out cold.
I felt soft, solid ground beneath me, my hands kneading grains of sand. I vaguely remembered Murdina leaving me, reminding me once again, to keep the necklace safe. Water licked around my kneecaps as I opened my eyes and was greeted with beautiful sky blue eyes. They were bright, vivid and full of curiosity.
When I blinked, they were gone. I rubbed my eyes shaking my head wondering if I could even trust what my eyes were showing me anymore. I felt a pang of loss wishing that those eyes had not been a trick of my imagination. Imagination or not, they had already cast their spell.