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Prologue

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"We have lingered in the chambers of the sea

By sea-girls wreathed with seaweed red and brown

Till human voices wake us, and we drown."

Sunlight sparkled off the water like a million broken diamonds. Our feet burned, skipping across shimmering sand down to the water's edge. Laughter muffled in the stifling air. I don't remember who shouted it first. 

The idea. The boy's name.

Kai!

The boy, Kai, sitting, bronze arms clasped around knees, stared up at us with large eyes through ringlets of brilliant gold hair.

The howling laughter of the other children. His eyes when he looked at me, pleading for help. I'll never forget those eyes. Dark blue with a strange sort of light filtering through like deep water. He looked to me for help. Still, I did nothing.

There were scuffling feet, dragging knees, a long deep gouge in wet sand. The smell of salt and fish and the roughness of the wooden deck of our skiff. The boy, backed up against the mast, an unsettling kind of terror in his eyes. He didn't scream. He never made a sound.

"Look at him! He's going to puke!" Someone said.

Everything was motion, there was so much motion and laughter.  The other children laughed at the boy who never spoke. Who would not stand up for himself or fight back on the playground even when they shoved him to the ground and threw garbage at his face. When he was called all sorts of horrible names by his classmates, the ones I desperately wanted as my friends, I couldn't laugh.  I also could not stop them and only watched, powerless, as he stood grasping at the slippery mast, staring at the water as if it meant death.

It wasn't enough for the boys to see him frozen with fear. They had to break him down to nothing, see him crushed. Get him to speak, to plead. They wanted him to beg for his life.

We were out so far that only the tops of palm trees were visible swaying against wet blue sky. There was no sound, the wind had died, the sail hung still when they started jumping, tilting the skiff, rocking it violently, the deck slick and deadly. I saw him when he lost his grip and stumbled. Felt the warmth of his skin, so close I could have reached out and grabbed him. I could have reached out.

It only took a few seconds for the water to close in over his head. Bury the gold curls. Sink him in the dark and blue depth. Sink him.

I could have reached out.

We drifted there for hours and all came home with the worst sunburns of our lives. Drifted until we could summon the ability to cry without hesitation, as we described our efforts to throw him a safety line. Lied as we described the boys diving in after him. Lied as we described circling for hours calling his name. I lied because I wanted them to like me. I lied because I was afraid of them. Because I was afraid of what we had done.

The truth is we drifted late into the afternoon until every one of us could recite flawlessly, our story of the sudden squall that overturned our skiff. The way we all worked to right the skiff and pull each other back aboard. The way Charles who was fourteen and bigger than the rest of us held on to Kai until his fingers were numb. Held on until he couldn't hold on anymore and we lost him. 

When I finally stumbled off of the skiff nearing sunset, I couldn't remember anymore where our story ended and reality began. After that, I was sick for weeks.

So sick I couldn't eat. Couldn't go to school or even get out of bed. My parents took me away from that place, away from the nightmares of those golden curls disappearing into deep water. North, where it was cold and there were no waves, no skiffs, no sunsets sinking into endless blue. Over the next four years I forced myself to forget the horror of that afternoon. I started to believe the story, that it was all an accident. I forgot the smell of the sea. Forgot and had peace.

Then, at the end of summer the year I turned sixteen my father moved us back. Grandfather had suffered a stroke and needed us close to care for him.

I can handle it, I told myself as we sailed from the mainland on the ferry. And I could have, too. Probably could have slipped back into the world of my past with just a small shudder, if it wasn't for the boy I saw standing on the beach our first evening back.

We were pulling into town, passing the old familiar pier and there he was. A boy with bronze skin and thick ringlets hanging over brilliant eyes. His hair wasn't gold. It was raven black. And his eyes weren't deep but bright, reflecting the light of the setting sun. Still, there was something in his look that haunted me, something frighteningly familiar in the way he gazed out at the endless, darkening sea. 

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