It was an average day in Morrow Bay, the sun was shining, there wasn't a cloud in the sky and it was a balmy eighty two (28C) degrees outside. The water was sparkling and clear and the waves were perfect for a surf. A normal day really. The only thing dampening anyone spirits was that it was Monday, time to go back to school after a long, beautiful weekend. Sirena was in her home room, looking out towards the sky as the teacher read the morning announcements. There was nothing too interesting, and the girl found her mind quickly wondering off into the ocean once more.
She loved the ocean, it was practically a second home to her, she always just felt so comfortable there. A sudden knock on the door, however, managed to catch her attention. There was the principal and he took her home room teacher, Mrs Carter aside and spoke softly to her. Sirena frowned slightly as she tried to hear what was being said, as did everyone in the class. Eventually they parted with a nod and Mrs Carter returned to the front of the room. “Students we have a new classmate joining us today and I expect you to all treat him nicely.”
She looked over to the door and encouraged the boy to come in. “Why don’t you tell us a little bit about yourself?” She prompted as she looked around the room, no doubt trying to find someone to put him next to. “And when you’re ready, there’s a spot down there in the middle next to Miss Ashton. Sirena, put your hand up for Mr Chandler won’t you.” Sirena waved at him slightly, giving him a shy little smile, completely forgetting she wasn’t supposed to associate with anyone outside her little clique. She was still new to her group, even though she’d known them her whole life. Their rules were a little hard for her to adjust to.
Tice fought to keep from sighing as he followed the principal down the hallway. New school, new faces, new country. It was supposed to be a fresh start. That what his father kept promising at any rate. What was done was done, and no one here knew what had gone on before. So it was supposed to be. As the principal guided him into the classroom and took aside the teacher, Tice could already imagine what he might be telling her. There were some things... some things his father still had to bring up to certain people. How long before others found out? The thought of it made him grimace.
Mrs. Carson- No, Carter. Mrs. Carter gestured at him to make introductions. More crowds. Wonderful. All of those faces staring back at him made Tice feel uncomfortable, like some strange bug under a magnifying glass. How long before he got burned? he wondered. A girl with the blondest hair he'd ever seen gave him a small wave to indicate where he should sit when he finished speaking. Tice hesitated for the slightest of moments, a puzzled frown crossing his face as he glanced at her. I know's she but I can't place she... He had never seen her before in his life, of that he was certain. All the same, he felt that there was something familiar about her. Dismissing the notion as a part of his nerves, he took a deep breath before speaking in a coarse baritone that sounded strange coming out of his thin frame. Stranger still was the accent. It was a strange lilting, rolling voice that hinted at Irish or Scottish yet was neither one or the other.
"How you gettin' on?." There was a pause as he tried to think of what to say. Lots of things came to mind, none of which seemed like a good idea. "I'm Matthias. Matthias Chandler. By Tice, I'm known. From Canada." He frowned then, realizing that in his nervousness he was slipping into Newfie. Tice didn't know if it would mean as much here as it did to the Mainlanders back home, but he didn't relish being marked as some sort of idiot from the beginning. Clearing his throat, he wanted to try again but couldn't think of anything else to say.
He looked back towards the girl who had waved. Sirena? An odd name, but not much odder than 'Tice', he supposed. Her smile was encouraging, and he gave a small one back in return as he shrugged off providing any other information and moved to sit next to her. He was dimly aware that she was dressed to keep cool in the warm air, as were the other students. The thin blue shirt his father had picked out for his first day of school still felt too warm, and he could only hope that he wouldn't sweat too much. Hitching a worn backpack higher onto his one shoulder, he sidestepped his way down towards her, giving the girl a nod when he sat. Sirena was definitely what his Granddad would have called 'a bit of alright by.' He tried not to let it show on his face, but her smile had taken some of the sting out of the day for him.
Sirena watched the boy come over and sit next to her. She gave him another small smile and looked towards the front as Mrs Carter began making some morning announcements. The school was holding tryouts for the school’s surfing teams were being held this afternoon, everyone would be picking term sports fourth period, and some other boring things she wasn’t paying attention to. Their names were all called on the role and they were given the next ten minutes free. Sirena turned herself towards the boy sitting beside her, looking at him for a few seconds before offering her hand.
“We weren’t properly introduced, sorry about that. My name’s Sirena, and I’ve lived here in Morrow Bay for all my life, as have my family for I don’t know how many generations. So... that’s an interesting accent you have. Where did you say you were from again? Canada? It’s really cold there isn’t it? How are you adjusting to the climate here? Hot enough for you? It’s not so bad really, it makes the water lovely and warm all year round. Great for swimming.” She smiled, as if the very thought of swimming brought her a lot of pleasure.
“Um... don’t... think me stupid please for asking this but the moose in Canada... they’re really big aren’t they. Is it true that they’ll just come up to your house?” She looked to him curiously, resting her head on her hands. However before the boy had a chance to answer the bell rung and she looked up suddenly. “Well... I gotta get going I guess. Biology. Yay. I’ll see you tomorrow maybe?” With another small wave the girl quickly stood and picked up her bag and aqua folder, slipping out of the room with the rest of the class.
Outside in the hall she quickly ran into one of her friends, Nixie. However the girl seemed less than impressed with her. “What?” She asked defensively.
“You know perfectly well what. You’re not supposed to associate with... with other people.”
“He’s new to the school, he doesn’t know anyone.”
“And I’m sure he’ll have tones of opportunities to make other friends. The group won’t be happy when they find out.”
“It’s not my fault he got put next to me... besides... he’s kinda cute.”
Nixie suddenly stopped and looked at her, taking her by her shoulders. “No. Oh no, no, no, no, no. No. No, don’t you dare go falling for a... land boy. The group would freak.”
“You’re not going to tell them are you?” Sirena asked worriedly, her eyes pleading.
Nixie sighed softly and looked down slightly and she reached out and rubbed her arm gently. “I suppose. You’re still new, so I suppose I can let it slide this once. But you gotta promise me you won’t pursue this boy anymore.”
Sirena's hand was warm and light in his grip. The sight of her smile at the mention of swimming made her all the more beautiful, alive, and she was distracting to look at as it was. It was her voice, though, that truly caught his attention; there was something in the way she spoke that was mesmerizing. It brought to mind waterfalls and hidden grottos, the sound of the tide edging its way along the beach, the distant roar of surf and waves.
But the sudden outburst of questions also caught him off guard, dumbfounded as to which question to answer first Moose? Houses? Weather? Tice found he was still sitting at his desk a good minute or so after everyone else had left the room. Had he even spoken a word to her? He couldn't remember. Tice was willing to chalk it up to his own nervousness, the strange accents and mannerisms of the Australians being different enough from his own upbringing as to confuse and disorientate him. But Sirena had also mentioned tomorrow. And she had waved at him again. For the first time in a while, tomorrow seemed to hold some promise, the kind a young man finds in the smile of a pretty girl. Tice smiled to himself slightly and shook off the reverie as he headed off to his first class.
As the morning bore on, the good mood faded. Every class Tice went to only showed him how much work he would have to do to catch up to the rest of the students. He did his best not to groan at the assignments. The school had given him a placement test not long after he and his father had settled in the town, and the principal had reassured him that he would be placed in classes befitting his abilities. By lunch time, Tice was wondering if he had lucked out on the exams only to end up in over his head.
In the cafeteria, Tice sat by himself, picking at something the menu declared to be fish. It wasn't any sort of fish he had ever caught and cooked, he was sure of that. His impromptu dissection was interrupted not long after he started.
"So how'd you do it?"
Tice looked up blandly into the eyes of a boy about his age. Glancing left to right, he didn't see anyone else but him. "Sorry, then?"
The boy deftly sat across the table from him, a look of intense curiosity on his impish face. "How'd you do it? Get her to talk to you?" Tice shook his head slowly, not comprehending what his guest was referring to. The boy let out a puff of disbelief and impatience. "Sirena! How'd you do it? Was it the accent? Must have been the accent."
Sticking out a well tanned hand, he gave Tice a firm, fast shake. "Oh, yeah. Jack Freeman. You're Tice, right? We're in homeroom together. Hey, you gonna eat that?" Before Tice could even answer, the Australian boy snatched a greasy chip off of his tray and popped it into his mouth. He chewed and swallowed quickly. "Thanks. No, look. Serina, right? She and the girls she hangs with almost never talk to anyone. And I mean ANYONE. Well, except for teachers. Or if it's about school stuff, like a project or something." Jack snagged another chip without remorse. "I only moved here from Exmouth a couple of months ago, but I heard no one's been able to score with any of them. Rumor is that they're a pack of lesbians or something. Only they don't talk to other girls, either. Soooo... I was wondering what you did to get Sirena to take to you."
Tice furrowed his brow as he digested what Jack had just told him. He didn't mind about the mooching of his lunch; he and his cocks back in Petty Harbour had shared food without a thought when they were out and about. In a way, Jack's thieving almost made him feel at home. "You interested in Serina, then?" he asked casually.
Not casually enough though, not by the way Jack was grinning. "Nah. I prefer brunettes. She's got this friend, Nixie." The Australian shook his head ruefully. "I wish she'd say a word to me!"
With a small grin and snort, Tice shook his own head in empathy.
“Jack, leave the poor boy alone. And stop stealing his food!” Another girl walked in and slapped him gently over the back of the head before sitting down next to the boys, placing her own plate on the table and shaking her head slightly. “Sorry about him, you’ll get used to it if you’re that unlucky. I’m Macey, I see you’ve met Jack, very unfortunate. You’re Tice right? I’ve already heard tones about you; like that you captured a certain little glamour-girl’s attention.” She raised an eyebrow to him and smiled cheekily. “Not bad for your first day here. None of the boys here have been able to get a conversation out of them.”
There were clearly a few choice words on the girl’s lips which she chose not to use and went about eating the sandwich in front of her. “I’m sure they’re nice enough to each other, I’m just also saying that they could stand not to be so... up themselves. It won’t kill them to talk to other people you know?” She said with her mouth full of bread and lunchmeat. Macey then rolled her eyes and cast them down, pulling at her cap slightly. “Speak of the devil.” She muttered under her breath.
A group of about seven girls walked into the cafeteria, all speaking happily to themselves. Among them was Sirena, who saw Tice sitting with a couple of people she didn’t really recognise and she waved, smiling softly until Nixie took her hand and pulled it down, shaking her head at her as if to say no and a sad look crossed her face, causing her to shrug her shoulders slightly at him before walking off with her friends as they went to get lunch. Macey simply groaned softly from where she sat.
“See what I mean? I don’t care what you all say those girls are weird and you only pay any attention to them because they’re pretty. Okay, ready, watch this; every single one of them is going to get nothing but seafood. It’s freaky.” She pointed to them and watched as she had predicted, every single girl in Sirena’s group ordered nothing but seafood and they walked away with fairly full trays. “Weird. I mean... I know it’s supposed to be good for your skin and hair and brain... maybe that’s why they’re so pretty. Because all they eat is fish.”
It was harder than she’d thought, getting used to all these new rules. “Do you ever think that by separating ourselves from everyone and keeping our distance then we’re actually drawing more attention to ourselves?” She asked Nixie softly as the other girl’s spoke. “I mean... we draw attention wherever we go. Surely if we didn’t hang out in such a tight group and made friends with other people then we’d stick out less?”
Nixie shook her head, swallowing the prawn in her mouth before speaking. “No, see if we start hanging out with other people then what happens is we get attached to them, we get sick of the lies or we slip up or an accident happens and they find out somehow. There’s no way of predicting how people will react. Even those we thought could be our friends have the potential to turn on us if they find out. Trust me, there have been generations before us who have gone through trial and error figuring out what works and what doesn’t to keep us safe right now when it’s getting harder and harder to keep secrets.” She shook her head slightly. “It’s hard I know, but you’ll get used to it.”
Tice ate quietly as Macey introduced herself, listening closely as she talked about Sirena and her friends. They were all beautiful. More so than any other girls he had ever seen, even the ones in the magazines and movies. These girls moved with a fluid, athletic grace that once again had the sense of the familiar about it. Something about their movements almost reminded him of unreasonably of the reels and step-dances his Granddad had taught him. He had waved back at Sirena when she had entered but felt a wave of disappointment when her smile turned into a sad shrug. The dark haired girl who had chastised her received an annoyed frown from Tice before he focused back on Jack and Macey.
Jack was snorting in retort at Macey's observation as to the girls' popularity. "Nah. That's part of it, sure. But it's not just that they're beautiful. It's that they're mys-ter-ious." The last word was drawled out melodramatically. "They stand apart and don't let anyone in. Imagine what it would be like for the guy who finally melted one of the Ice Princesses. Not just because he might get her alone for a bit, but because he was good enough to make it where no one else could... 'Cause that makes him special, too, you see? He'd be good enough." Some of the humor had gone out of Jack's voice as he spoke, his tone becoming more wistful and resigned as he followed Nixie with his eyes. There was an uncomfortable pause in the situation, broken when Jack glanced sidelong at Macey with a mischievous air. "Besides, you're pretty, too, Macey. Not in the same way, but you're still a beauty. I keep trying to tell you that, but you just go on slapping me. What's a poor man to do?"
Tice pushed the tray away from him, disliking whatever the school cook had done to the battered fish. Elbows on the table, hands beneath his chin, the Newfoundlander pursed his lips as thought about what the duo had to say. "I dunno. I can't speak for the other coves like Jack here, and sure Sirena's not a bad bit nice, but... Maybe it's because she's the first girl to smile at me by and by."
The black mood was coming back, memories threatening to pour all too willingly off of his chest and out of his mouth. There had been girls over the past two years who had looked at him, girls in school and in town he had grown up with, gone to dances to, stolen kisses from. Only for those past two years, none of them had any smiles for Matthias Chandler. He took a deep breath to drive away the gloom, trying for a smile at what he hoped would be two new friends as he straightened in his chair. "At any rate, what's your lot at home, then? If either of you like boats, you should come down to the harbor after school. My Da's just about got the shop up and running. Best handcrafted sloops, skiffs, knockabouts and ketches you'll ever sail, by. That's why we've come to where you're at. Da got a commission for a big ketch from some cock, big enough he decided to move the whole business down here. We might go out for a sail, if you like. Maybe go swimming?"
He tried to make it sound enticing, his voice raised just a tad in casual eagerness. Sirena had said something about swimming, hadn't she? Were there all that many places to swim here? Maybe if he was out on the water and she was out in the water...
Jack shook his head. "Not today, Tice, least not for me. Principal wants to talk to me after classes about a dead eel somebody left in one of his desk drawers. Wants my advice, no doubt." He sniffed with exaggerated self importance. "He's calling it detention, but I think that's just to confuse the real culprits."
Macey, once again began speaking, this time her mouth half full of apple. “Sorry dude, maybe on the weekend. The school’s surfing tryouts are today, tomorrow and Thursday I have hockey practice, swimming training on Wednesday and on Friday I have Piano. Don’t even ask.” She quickly held up her hand to stop him asking why she had piano practice amongst all the sports she plays. “Mum makes me; it’s the only way she agrees to pay for all my other stuff. Buy hey, if you have a boat it’d really be worth your while to take a trip out, the water’s always really warm.
There’s a reef just out past shore, and an island about half an hour away by boat. Mako island. There’s not too much there, but the reef is really beautiful if you wanna try scuba diving or snorkelling.” She shrugged slightly. “If that’s your thing anyway. It was just a suggestion. Besides the girls are always heading down to the beach, or out to the reef. No one ever sees them out there, either on the beach or on the reef but they’re always heading out there. I’d guess they just hang out on the beaches on Mako or something. Maybe they’re shy or something... I don’t know.” She shrugged her shoulders as the bell that signalled the end of lunch.
“Well... I’ll see you boy’s around. Tomorrow? Same time, same channel. Good bye. Nice meeting you Tice!” She waved extravagantly and quickly headed off, her short frame quickly getting lost amongst the sea of taller students. The group of girls with Sirena all got up, talking amongst themselves. She caught a glimpse of Tice and smiled again, giving him a small wave by raising her hand and wiggling her fingers discreetly.
She wasn’t sure what it was exactly, but she really liked this boy. Maybe she felt a little bad that he was new, maybe she didn’t want him to be lonely or sad. He just had this aura of sadness about him, which she didn’t like, not in a way that made her want to avoid him but in a way that made her want to help him. She’d always been sociable and friendly, the sudden knowledge that she now wasn’t allowed to get close to anyone but her new friends was a little hard for her to adjust to. She had friends she’d have to give up because of these lifestyle changes.
There were so many adjustments she’s had to make recently. Sighing loudly as the girl walked down the hallway. “I think I need to go for a swim this afternoon.” She said softly to Nixie.
“Want me to come with you?”
“No... I think I need a bit of time alone.”
The other girl smiled reassuringly and rubbed her arm gently. “It does take a bit of time to get used to... everything. But you will. You’ll see, the girls will be the only friends you’ll need.”
As the final bell rung Sirena moved from her locker with her swimsuit in her bag as she headed down to the change rooms. Once there she changed quickly and headed down to the beach after dropping her things off at the lockers. There was a small forest trail out the back of the locker block that led to a small and secluded beach that only locals knew about. There she left her possessions near a tree and slipped her dress on, walking out into the water, feeling the waves splash over her toes and she smiled before running off into the crystal water, disappearing beneath the waves and heading off towards the reef.
Fighting to keep the disappointment from his face, Tice simply nodded to Jack and Macey as they hurried off after the bell. He knew their reasons for declining were legitimate, but there were the sharp and painful recollections of others who had turned down his invitations, if they hadn't avoided him outright. Mentally, the argument raged between reason (Just because they have stuff to do doesn't mean they don't like you) and past experience (Why should they be any different from everyone back in Petty Harbour?). He sloughed through the rest of the school day. The sense of isolation and depression made him weary, and he just wanted it to be over with.
After school, Tice headed down towards the harbour. His father's new boat-wright's shop was a barn-like structure that clashed with the other local architecture, a large affair of dark wood planking that looked as though it had been lifted from the shores of the north Atlantic. The hand carved sign over the door declared "Chandler & Son, Woodwrights." In the centre stretched the great keel and ribs of the latest product. He could hear his father up in the loft that served as the office, his thick brogue filled with enthusiasm as he spoke on the phone to some third party. By the sound of it, it would be some time before Benjamin Chandler was finished. Hopefully it would be some more business; things had been a bit slow until his father decided to start taking orders for furniture and cabinetry as well as for boats. Tice stopped by the workbench his father had set aside for him specifically. It was brand new and un-used, his tools still in its drawers and racks. His fingers ran along the unmarred wood, his torso expanding as he breathed in the smell of wood and resin mixed with the salt sea scent that wafted in on the breeze. Otherwise the shop was empty. Being alone in the vast structure depressed him even further.
Tice tossed his backpack onto his workbench, and, grabbing a sheet of paper and pen, wrote out a quick note to his father to let him know where he'd be. A quick change of clothes from his work locker and he was off to the moorings. In the twisted logic of a moody teenager, he had decided if he was going to be alone then he would be alone where he could be undisturbed. And that meant the ocean, where his nightmares had been seeded but whose call he couldn't refuse.
The knockabout was a sleek piece of crafting, some 13' long, its single mast a triangle of white against the darkly stained red cedar of the deck and planking. The craft had been a family project, his Granddad's and father's hands guiding his as the three of them built it up from keel to deck. His mother, still alive at the time, had made her contribution as well: upon the bow in a careful, professional hand was painted its name, Black Hare. And it was well named. The knockabout skipped across the water like its namesake would across a field of heather, the spray catching Tice across the face. His life vest of orange was tight against his bare chest, clashing against the boat's coloring and Tice's olive and grey shorts. Tice couldn't say that being out on the open water made him any happier, not with the memories of two years ago still lurking in his head. But it calmed him, made him feel numb and free at the same time. He had kept a weather eye out for girls who might be swimming near the reef, especially for the form of a certain blonde girl, without success. He sighed and shrugged in discouragement. No reason she should go swimming today. And Macey did say that no one ever saw them. Without thinking, Tice steered past what he took to be Mako Island, the small boat leaving the sheltered safety of the bay. He banished all thought, tried not to think of anything but the push of the breeze and the flow of the water past the hull. He breathed in the salt sea air and lost all sense of time and distance as the shore of the beach receded far behind him.
When the first cresting wave struck, Tice came to his senses. "Thundering Jesus," he swore vehemently. In his funk, he failed to realize that he had sailed out too far, and the blue waters had melted into the steel grey of the ocean. The knockabout wasn't built for deep sea. It was a coastal vessel, and its anchor line wasn't long enough to strike bottom in deep water. A large enough wave would easily capsize him and that's when things got dangerous. The wind was picking up, and even as he tried to tack and come about he could feel a strong tide pulling at the tiller. Too late, he realized just how stupid he had been. He started to call upon everything his family had taught him, generations of wisdom added to his own few years of experience. Every trick and turn he could summon up failed him though, the unfamiliar currents and wefts of the southern sea defeating his knowledge of the shoals of home. In desperation, he reached for the box containing the flare gun-
Only to watch with a sinking feeling as the next wave struck, spinning the signaler from his hand into the ocean as he was tossed against the stern. Tice's heart was pounding hard enough that he could feel it in his chest. Staring blankly at the spot where the flare gun had sunk, he gulped in realization. The superstitions of old were upon him. All those rumors and tales they had told him, all the people looking at and avoiding him for the past two years... he had tried to deny them, but in his soul he feared they were all too true. The sea didn't give up its dead.
"They said you'd be back for me," he croaked, "You don't give up, do you, lady? Alright, then. Alright. I give up, by. Take me to the others." He slumped against the stern again, closing his eyes against the invisible tears. Trembling fingers of his left hand slowly undid the snap buckles on his vest. Maybe it was for the best. At worst, his father would have to mourn him a second time. Eyes still shut, he never saw the final wave that scooped him out of the knockabout, his head striking the side as he went over. He was dimly aware of sinking into warm blackness, his body rocked gently. At least this time the water's warm.
Out on the reef Sirena was collecting shells amongst the coral. Her and her friends really enjoys making accessories, jewellery and tops out of them and could often be seen wearing them around town, even at school, though maybe not the shell tops. She’d just spotted a brilliantly blue abalone shell and dove down to the bottom to reach it. Picking the shell up the girl inspected it carefully before placing it into her net bag. One of the magical things about being underwater was that it was so silent; you could hear everything around you. She stopped for as long while and just sat there, listening.
Finally the girl went to return to the surface. Now, usually, she would be able to hear boats coming a mile off, the motors noise carried well underwater and gave her plenty of time to get away. So Sirena got the shock of her when she resurfaced and there was a boat coming towards her. Quickly the girl dived back beneath the water and watched as it sailed by swiftly. It had avoided the reef, and was travelling parallel to her position and was still moving at the same speed, not altering its course, so there was a very good chance he hadn’t seen her.
She was tempted to swim away, just in case they did decide to come back to check it out. However something drove her to the surface and she took a small breath as her face hit air and her eyes travelled to the boat and what she saw made her gasp and sink lower into the water. Tice? She thought to herself in confusion. What was he doing out here? And in a sail boat? No wonder he’d been able to sneak up on her. But looking at the boy it was easy to see that he was out of it.
Where was he going? He was heading out into open water, his boat wasn’t built for the open water. He was going to get himself killed! Diving back down beneath the water she quickly took off after him, leaving the shallow and protected waters of the reef. She watched from below as the water began tossing the small boat around and suddenly the boy came crashing into the water. Sirena flinched back, retreating slightly for fear he’d see her when she noticed he wasn’t moving. His lifejacket was causing him to float up to the surface but he seemed to be unconscious.
Oh god she hoped he was unconscious. Quickly swimming up to the boy she took hold of him with one arm. “It’s alright Tice, I’ve got you.” She said as she moved over to the boat and took hold of that too and attempted to begin began pulling the pair back into the shelters of the reef and towards Mako, nestled calming in the middle. However the waters were reluctant to give up the boat. She was fighting a losing battle and, eventually, Sirena had to abandon the boat to its fate. She couldn’t save both it and Tice.
Eventually the girl dragged the still unconscious boy onto the shore, panting slightly from the exertion as she left him near the water’s edge and dragged herself up onto the sand, trying to get away from the water and get herself dry. Once she’d done that and gotten dressed in the clothes she left here for situations like this she began pulling Tice further from the water. He was still breathing, which was a relief and she took his lifejacket off and set it beside him.
Running her hand through his hair the girl sighed softly. The girls were going to be so mad when they found out. Still, she couldn’t leave him here alone like this. He had no way of getting home now. Not that she was sure how she’d be able to help him. Sitting on the sand the girl looked out towards the water. Nixie was right, getting attached to humans was dangerous. But what was she supposed to do? She couldn’t just let him down. Hugging her knees to her chest the girl began singing softly out to the water as the wind tossed her hair and she waited for the boy to wake up.
Faces were floating up from the watery night below. Their features were bloated and corpse white, with yellowed eyes that saw nothing. Their bodies floated languidly in the water, the currents and eddies pushing loose limbs into parodies of animation. Tice floated among them as well. Up and around him they floated, fish eaten arms lazily reaching for him, calling him to come back below with them. He kicked and thrashed in slow motion as they came for him, gently pulling him downwards. Tice opened his mouth to scream, and the water flowed into his lungs...
The sun was setting as Tice groaned and came to. He felt battered, his muscles and chest sore. Worse was his head, which throbbed in agony with each beat of his heart. His eyes did not open at first, letting his other senses gain some measure of his surroundings before sight allowed any confirmation. Beneath him was the softness of damp sand, sticking to his bare skin in grainy irritation. A cool ocean breeze was blowing gently through trees and across his flesh, while overhead he could hear gulls crying and cawing as they wheeled and dived. There was the roar of the surf upon sand, a beach, and the crashing of waves in the distance. His mouth tasted thickly of salt, a thirst scratching at his throat that he had only known once before. As he lay upon the shore, Tice closed his eyes tighter as he realized that he was still alive... or at least returned, again. The curses fought through the exhaustion and pain. No knowing anyone else to be about, the Newfie in him burst out in full, crescendoing from a a muttered hush to shouts of frustrated rage.
"Wha's wrong, ducky? Is he too binicky for ya? Fliced me back to sands again? Der I was, devil to pay and no hot pitch, yet ya cast me out again. And after ya went to so much trouble to bring me from where I was there. Thunderin' Jaysus. Ya took the rest of my cocks and coves, by. Ya took them! Ya keep calling back to me! " Tice took a shuddering breath before screaming out, "Bedamned feckled bitch! Which bearing is it?! Di' ya want me or no?!"
The only reply was the lapping of the tide at his toes.
Tice half levered himself up, the heels of his palms and the toes of his feet digging into the sand. He opened his eyes finally to stare straight down at the sand below where he had laid. The influx of light brought some measure of sense to him, the brain scrambling to reassemble what had happened. The sail outwards was clear enough, hitting the rougher waters, losing the flare gun. After that it was just-
No. There had been singing. There had been a sweet voice calling his name and singing. Hadn't there? Or had he imagined it, just like he had imagined the faces in the water? The thought made him shiver, wondering if this time he'd be driven to madness by the horrors within his own mind. Needing to know, Tice raised his head so that he might look about. Of his knockabout there was no immediate sign, only the glow of the sun setting across the water, dappled oranges and red making a shifting motley of the ocean's surface. And, against all odds, there was Sirena.
Tice reeled emotionally at the sight of her. His anger and depression were stunned into submission by the confusion and embarrassment caused by her presence. His boat lost, his skills insufficient, his life nearly lost... and here the girl that had inspired hope in him earlier in the day had most likely seen it all.
He looked back down at the sand and sighed. The throbbing of his head increased with the flush of shame, one sand-encrusted hand raising to rub at the goose-egg he could feel forming. He swore again, only it had nothing to do with the pain. "Damn," he muttered softly. "Damn."