(26) Morse No

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Watching Ditzy go under, I don't think. I just act.

I've got a stick in my hand before I know what I'm doing, charging down the hill. Patrick reaches for another rock with terror on his face. As the Redding lunges for him next, I fling my stick with all my might and either drive the monster back or stop time; somehow, it pauses long enough for me to skid in beside Patrick like a home run baseball player, shield him, and slam my eyes shut. The wave crashes over us. For a moment, I'm underwater. I'm back in the rapids of the Yellow Rock River, helpless to do anything but hold my breath and pray to a god I don't know if I believe in that we make it out alive.

The wave keeps coming. My back takes the brunt of it, but my knees are braced enough that I stay upright and keep Patrick there with me. For a moment, our heads come free. We both gasp before the Redding swamps us again. My ears ring from the pressure and the deafening torrent. I want to scream at this thing to leave us alone, but my voice won't work. Even as the Redding falls back and I feel it rising for another go, all that's on my mind is how it would feel if it got down my throat. I can feel it over my skin, like fingers, like it's trying to get under it. I feel my red patch spreading.

I can't die here.

I can't let my friends die here.

But nobody is making decisions for me, which means I'm on my own.

That realization switches something. I'm on my own, but I thrive in crisis situations. In a flash, I've ruled out things that don't work: running, Ditzy's weapon, Patrick's shouts, both our sticks and stones. I run through several others as the Redding falls to chest level and spins around us like a bathtub drain. My ideas feel like something Ditzy would produce, but if we're out of straightforward options and about to drown, maybe crazy is worth a shot.

And Ditzy's track record isn't all terrible. She's nearly gotten killed on multiple occasions, but she's also made her own flail and discovered we could talk in Morse Code without—

Morse Code.

The Redding charges. I snatch another breath before it drives us under, and tap a word on Patrick's shoulder.

STOP

The Redding freezes mid-attack. My hands shake with the effort of doing anything but clawing our way out of here.

Down, I tap, and our heads come free.

Patrick is close to hyperventilating. I drop my hand below the surface and tap down again. The wave falls to our waists. This is crazy, but it's working, and there's no reason why it shouldn't. This stuff has talked to me in this code. Everyone else has heard it. Ditzy's theory holds: if the Redding is an entity from the sea, it almost certainly learned how to "speak" from sailors. If it can understand them, it can understand me.

Leave us alone, I drum.

Redding gushes back around us. A nasty slithering sensation plagues my skin, and Patrick writhes the same way I do. When my vision clears, I find us on a patch of clear ground with Redding dripping off us faster than gravity can coax it. All around us is the Redding-wave. It rises a meter and a half at least, and there's no sign of my other friends. I slam my palm against the ground. It takes a moment to beat out the word leave, but the moment it finishes, the wave begins to back away. I let go of Patrick. Then I rise to my feet and advance on the Redding. Don't touch him, I beat against my chest. Let the others go.

The Redding retreats before me. There on the ground is Ditzy, curled up with her arms over her head. She gasps for air as the Redding leaves her. She managed to hold her breath. She knows how to swim. Calico J, victim of a riptide once as a child, does not. I spin around with a drummed don't touch her, and scan the outer wave for where I last saw Calico J. Patrick's watching me with wide eyes. In my peripheral vision, I see him raise a shaky hand to his chest. Leave, he taps, too, and nothing prepares me for the impact it has.

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