Thursday, February 18, 2010

Friday Fiction for February 19, 2010

Friday Fiction is hosted this week by Sherri Ward, on her blog A Candid Thought. Find MckLinky there for more fantastic Friday Fiction.

This week, we’re winging our way across the Pacific Ocean for our Fiji vacation, so it’s only fitting that we check in with Timothy again on his tropical getaway. If you’re new to this story, I encourage you to check out Part 1, Part 2, and Part 3 before diving into this week’s Part 4.

Reef, Her Madness

Part 4

By Rick Higginson

The lagoon that was serene and inviting by day, looked unpredictable and foreboding by night. Though the waves were actually calmer than they had been that afternoon, the distance to the reef seemed a far more daunting swim than it had appeared under the bright, tropical sunshine. Timothy waited on the sand, staring out across the water as he struggled with second thoughts.

Teresa sat beside him, apparently no more eager to dash into the unknown than he was. She held her snorkeling gear loosely across her legs with one hand, and the bulky dive light in her other. Her right heel plowed a curved furrow in the sand, but beyond that she didn’t do or say anything.

He turned on his dive light, and sent the beam scanning across the surface ahead of them. The white LED flooded a narrow swath with intense light, far brighter than what he had expected of a hand-held, battery operated device. Nothing revealed itself within the beam – not the dreaded dorsal fin of a prowling shark, nor the welcome sight of a dolphin popping up for a breath of air.

The moon was higher and a little bit brighter than it had been at the same time the night before, and the scattered reflections of her glow created the illusion of organic motion at the periphery of his vision. Whenever he cast the beam in that direction, though, there were only the peaceful ripples of the sheltered lagoon.

He took his eyes from the sea and looked at Teresa. She gazed out across the water and took no notice of his attention. He felt an odd sensation in his stomach, and realized he was more afraid of appearing scared in front of her, than he was of anything that might be hiding just out of sight.

With a determined breath, he crawled forward to the water, and scanned his light on the sand in his path. Wouldn’t do to stick my hand right down on an urchin or stingray, he thought. He continued until the water was deep enough for him to float, and then swept the light back and forth. Small fish darted into view, charging after potentially edible detritus his motion had stirred up, but nothing threatening appeared anywhere he could see.

A moment later, and Teresa floated next to him, pulling her fins onto her feet now that she was deep enough that she didn’t need to walk. Her light swung from a wrist cord as she occupied her hands with the fins, sending its beam out in a chaotic manner until she finally took hold of the handle again.

Her breathing was rapid, and sounded louder through the snorkel than it had on their previous swims together. Just as he had done a few minutes before, she scanned her light around, searching for the source of her fears. She found, just as he had, that there was nothing in the shallows that warranted such trepidation.

Transferring the light to his left hand, he reached over and took her free hand in his, and then started a slow, gentle kick for the deeper water. When they arrived at the first formations of shallow coral, he gave her hand a squeeze, waited for the pause in her breath, and descended for the bottom.

A crab scooted slightly under the edge of the coral, turning to keep his face – and claws – towards them as they passed by. Fish hovered within the protection offered by crevices, hoping to escape the notice of nocturnal predators, while a sea slug made a lazy track across the sand at the coral’s base.

He turned his light upwards, and followed the beam on a lazy ascent. Exhaling before he reached the surface, he poked his head up just long enough to inhale before returning his attention to the reef below, and gave Teresa enough time to clear her snorkel and take several breaths.

When she gave his hand a squeeze, he towed her down along another part of the reef. For a moment, he turned his light to look behind them, and smiled. Her legs trailed relaxed, rather than kicking to help propel her through the water. She’s letting me do all the work, but that’s okay. She won’t need to surface for air nearly as often this way.

He stopped short. A group of reef sharks sped across the bottom, just a short distance away. At their size, one alone would be of little concern to him, but this was a decent sized pack. Teresa’s grip on his hand grew tighter, and he weighed his options. If we bolt for the shore, will it attract their attention? If we stay here, are we just as likely to be noticed?

The sharks’ movements seemed disorderly, making the decision process all the more difficult. As he watched, though, he started to notice a certain method to the madness. Sharks on one side of a rock or coral formation would scare fish into darting out the other side, where more sharks waited to make the catch. They weren’t lone hunters all crowded into one small space – they were a cooperative team, working together to catch enough food for all.

The revelation was both fascinating and frightening. If they want us, they’ll surround us and leave us no avenue for escape. They have to know we’re here, though. This is their world, and they can sense us at a much greater distance than we could see them. If they wanted us, they would already be closing in, but they’re not. They want the fish they’re herding out of the reef.

They floated slowly to the surface, where they both caught their breath, and then they followed a short distance behind the sharks. Dolphins hunt at night, when they have the advantage of their sonar. These sharks don’t have sonar, but they have the advantage in the dark nonetheless, and they coordinate like a pod does.

The sharks eventually sped off into the distance, and Timothy turned back towards shore. All these years of swimming in the ocean, and I’m still discovering His wonders in the deep.

To be continued...

Thursday, February 11, 2010

Friday Fiction for February 12, 2010

Friday Fiction is hosted this week by Yvonne, over on My Back Door. Look there for her touching love story, and for MckLinky to take you to more great fiction.

I’m pleased to post Part 3 of “Reef, Her Madness” this week, and my plan is to have Part 4 uploaded and scheduled to post next week, when we’ll be on our way to our own tropical island vacation. If you’re visiting the story for the first time, you’ll probably want to catch up with Part 1 and Part 2 first, before getting to this week’s revelations and action.

Reef, Her Madness

Part 3

By Rick Higginson

Teresa was on the beach waiting when he crawled towards the water the following morning.

“So, are things any better at your bungalow today?” he asked.

“Not really,” she said. “Jenny isn’t speaking to either me or her boyfriend now, and she keeps shooting me these looks like it’s somehow my fault.”

“Her loss, then, if she wants to spend the kind of money a resort like this costs, just to waste her time sulking. I, on the other hand, came here to enjoy warm, clear water, and a change of scenery, so that’s my plan for the day.”

“Would you mind if I tagged along?”

“It depends; are you just interested in tagging along because I’m one of the Pod?”

“Well, that is why I took your picture yesterday, but I’m more interested in tagging along because – unlike Jenny and her boyfriend – you’re actually doing something out here. You’re not afraid to go out farther than the shallow reefs, and you make me want to be as at home in the water as you are. I mean, I’m a lot better in that regard than most people, but you – you were literally born for swimming.”

“No, the swimming was secondary. All of us, myself included, were born to prove that Dr. Marcel could change fundamental characteristics of the human body predictably and repeatedly.” He stared off towards the ocean. “He never did tell us what he planned for us after he’d proven his point.”

“Does it really matter now what he’d planned?”

He snorted. “Well, to at least one person, it seems to. That’s a big reason why I’m here, instead of celebrating my twenty-fifth birthday at home. I’m just not into sticking to Dr. Marcel’s last-known plan for my life.”

“What plan was that?”

“We were supposed to be a breeding population. The ultimate proof of his concept would be that the changes he forced into our genetics would be passed along to our offspring, hence demonstrating that he could design away the potential for various diseases from the human body. There are four of us turning twenty-five this spring – myself, Robert, Francine, and Annette. Robert and Francine have been something of a couple for several years, so Annette is determined that means I’m supposed to be with her.”

“I take it you don’t love her.”

“Yes, I do, but pretty much the same way I love anyone else in the Pod. She’s Eva’s youngest sister, though, and while Eva has mellowed some as she’s gotten older, Annette has only gotten more serious and headstrong. I can’t imagine being her boyfriend or mate or husband or whatever kind of arrangement she wants to have, let alone considering the thought of raising children with her.”

“Did you tell her that?”

He laughed. “She’s Eva’s sister, and is convinced that if we do not argue with Eva, then the same rule should apply to her. She’s decided that Dr. Marcel’s plan was that I should be with either her or Francine, and since Francine is already taken, that leaves her. She doesn’t want to wait much longer to start trying to have children.”

“It sounds a lot like the way Daddy had my life planned. I was supposed to graduate High School and then marry a decent guy who could provide for me so that I could stay home and pop out a couple of grandchildren. When I went to college, he hoped I’d meet an up and coming professional there, and get back on track for his plans, but I just don’t see myself as the happy housewife.”

“I guess we’re both big disappointments.”

“Yeah, Daddy keeps asking when I’m going to grow up and settle down.”

“Funny – Annette was asking the same question about me. Why do people assume if you don’t conform to their plans, you’re being immature?”

“I’m still trying to figure out what’s so bad about being immature.” She kicked off her sandals and dropped her towel. “Race you to the water,” she said, and took off running.

He crawled through the sand as fast as he could, which was nowhere near as quick as her legs carried her. By the time he covered the distance to the lagoon, she was already a short ways out, and had her fins, mask, and snorkel in place.

Slipping into the brine, he wiggled forward until the water was deep enough to swim, and then skimmed the bottom to catch up with her. He swung wide, approaching from behind her left side, and as he drew close he kicked hard for the surface. Leaving the water at a steep angle, he rolled slightly to one side and landed flat right beside her with a huge splash.

She coughed through her snorkel, and turned upright to bring her head out of the water. “What are you trying to do, drown me?”

He grinned. “No, if I was trying to drown you, I’d have grabbed your arms and shown you just how long I can stay under without breathing. I just thought since you enjoyed demonstrating your speed on land, I should give you a little demonstration of my speed in the water.”

“By catching up to me and splashing me?”

“No, by jumping and splashing you, though that was an easy jump. I don’t think I went more than about five or six feet up on that one.”

“Five or six feet is an easy jump?”

“I’ve done a lot higher. I could do a five foot jump carrying you along.”

“I swim fast, and I can’t manage so much as a one foot jump. Even with your tail, I can’t imagine you getting that much speed and power.”

“Fine; put your arms around my neck, and when I tell you, be ready to hold your breath.”

“You’re kidding.”

“Hold on and find out.”

She gave him first a doubtful look, which transformed into a daring smile. “You’re on.” She wrapped her arms loosely about his neck, and clasped her hands together.

He reached around her back and gripped both wrists with the opposite hand. “Hold that breath,” he said, and when she complied, he flipped backward.

The descent was an easy, slow pace, drawing her farther from shore and into the deeper water. Her eyes through the mask showed that, so far, she wasn’t impressed. You don’t waste speed on the dive, when it’s the launch that’s important.

Those blue eyes, though, so close in front of his face, made him think of all the times the Pod had danced in the Family Room pool. Why did I never notice anyone else’s eyes when they were this close to me before? Is it just the tropical water, or is she really that much warmer than anyone else I’ve embraced?

Concern appeared in her expression as some air escaped her lips. She can’t stay down too much longer.

He shook off the distraction, and put every bit of energy he could into his tail. The surface seemed to rush towards them, and he held tighter to keep her from slipping away in the force of the water.

They departed the water nearly straight-up, and he leaned backwards to take the brunt of the splash. With just the slightest flick of his tail, he brought her to the surface.

“That was incredible,” she said, still holding him around the neck.

He released his grip on his wrists, and rested his hands lightly on her back. Yes, it was. Why hasn’t jumping ever seemed that incredible before?

“There’s still the reef to explore,” she said.

He nodded, and removed his arms from around her.

Her hands started to slip from his neck, and then she suddenly placed one on the back of his head and kissed him, before diving away towards the reef.

Here I go again, chasing her.

To be continued…

Thursday, February 4, 2010

Friday Fiction for February 5, 2010

Friday Fiction is hosted this week by Joanne, on her blog An Open Book. Open it up to find MckLinky and the list of other stories for your reading enjoyment.

This week is part 2 of the new Pod short story, Reef, Her Madness. If you’re coming to the story for the first time, you’ll probably want to click over to Part 1 before reading this week’s entry. For those continuing on, we now rejoin Timothy on his tropical island vacation.

Reef, Her Madness

Part 2

By Rick Higginson

Dinner was ordered, and would arrive shortly, so Timothy occupied the time while waiting by watching the lagoon. The lights of a boat receded into the distance, carrying the scuba divers out for a night dive, and he considered the idea. Maybe I should get a dive light, and see what the reef is like at night. There were a few guests down on the beach, and some even ventured a dip into the water, but from what he could see, none were wandering too far from shore. What would it be like to be out there in the dark, without any of the dolphins staying close to watch over me? The idea was both frightening and exhilarating. All my life, I’ve trusted the dolphins to keep me safe from what I couldn’t see, but regular people go out all the time in dive gear, with nothing but normal human senses and bright flashlights to guard them. Why couldn’t I do the same thing?

He chuckled, thinking of what Eva and Marta would say to the idea. ‘Keep the dolphins close, and listen to their sounds – they’ll alert you to any threats in the area.’ Dr. Marcel had taught them that, and it had been repeated with the determination and reverence of a religious truth. Maybe that’s part of the problem. Maybe we depended on the dolphins so much for so long, that we’ve robbed ourselves of the heightened senses we should have been developing all along.

The light of the waxing, crescent moon shimmered across the nearly smooth surface of the lagoon, and he found the effect enticing. Tomorrow, he thought. Tomorrow, I’ll look into a dive light, and if I can get one, I’ll enjoy a night swim to see what the reef is like in the dark.

He didn’t bother turning at the sound of knocking on the door. “It’s unlocked,” he called over his shoulder. When he heard the door open, he added, “Just put it on the low table by the chair.”

“Excuse me?”

He shifted position. The woman from the reef stood on his porch, peeking tentatively around the slightly ajar door. “Sorry,” he said. “I thought you were room service.” Why is the Crazy Reef Girl here?

“Were you expecting them to deliver a woman to you?” she asked.

“No, I was expecting them to deliver the Shepherd’s Pie I ordered for dinner. Were you afraid I’d need a buddy for safe eating?”

“Um, no, I was, um, just-” She looked down at the floor. “I was kind of hoping I could hang out here for a while. I got back to our bungalow after dinner, and my friend was having a big fight with her boyfriend. I’m not sure what it’s about, but after hearing her yell my name before I even got to the door, I decided I’d rather not find out.”

“Why did you think to come to my bungalow?”

She shrugged. “I don’t know anyone else here at the resort. I thought about going to the lounge, but I’m just not really into that whole, ‘girl alone at the bar is looking for a date’ perception that most guys have. They buy drinks whether I want one or not, and then act like I owe them big time for it.” She gave him a hopeful look. “So, can I come in?”

What do they call that look? ‘Puppy-dog eyes?’ How am I supposed to say no to puppy-dog eyes? “Yeah, come on in,” he said.

She stepped through the door, and closed it behind her. “I’m not interrupting anything, am I?”

“So long as you don’t mind me eating in front of you, no. Until dinner arrives, I was just looking at the lagoon and thinking about getting a light for a night swim tomorrow night.”

“I’ve thought about that, but it kind of scares me.”

“That’s part of why I want to. I’ve been in the dark ocean before, but the Pod was always right there. We had the dolphins to rely on, and each other, but we never really had the ability to just go out and see what the ocean was like at night. I just watched a dive boat go out, with all these people who weren’t created for the ocean like I was, and they’re going to do something that I’ve always been conditioned to be afraid of doing. If they can do it, I should be able to also.”

She came over and stood by the sliding glass door, looking out at the sea. “Would you take me with you, if you do?”

“Would you stay away if I said no?”

“Considering you could easily leave me behind if you wanted to, it wouldn’t make any sense for me to try and come along if you didn’t want me to, but wouldn’t it be more fun with someone to share it with?”

As much as I hate to admit it, it was more fun chasing around the reef with her earlier today. “Yeah, it would. Do you have a dive light?”

“I need to rent one from the resort dive center, too.”

“I’ll make you a deal – if you do the leg work to go pick them up, I’ll cover the cost of the rentals.”

“That sounds fair.”

“You know, if you’re going to stick around, I should probably know what to call you besides ‘Crazy Reef Girl’.”

She giggled. “Oh, I don’t know. ‘Merman and Crazy Reef Girl’ has a certain ring to it, like a super-hero and sidekick.” She affected a deep, theatrical voice. “Protecting the oceans from profiteering polluters and felonious fisheries!”

“Okay, point taken. You are Crazy Reef Girl, but you’re still going to need your secret identity that I can call you in public.”

“Teresa,” she said.

“Timothy,” he said, and then tilted his head to one side to listen. “If I’m not mistaken, that sounds like a cart right outside the door, so if you wouldn’t mind, Teresa, let room service in so I can have my dinner.”

To be continued...