Jared Sandman’s Blogbuster Tour 2011 runs from July 1st through August 31st. His novels include Leviathan, The Wild Hunt and Dreamland, all of which are available at Amazon, Barnes & Noble and Smashwords. His next book, The Shadow Wolves, will be released in August. Follow him on Twitter (@JaredSandman) and be entered to win one of several $25 Amazon gift cards. See rules at www.jaredsandman.com for eligibility.
“Do we have to go now?” Amber wanted to stay here, on this magical spit of an island. The Isle of Ambergris was special to her, a kingdom she wasn’t prepared to relinquish.
“I got work tomorrow,” he said. “And it’ll take another half hour to row back to shore.” Brad stole a look at his watch, estimated they’d be back at the apartment around eleven.
“Can’t we stay and celebrate a little longer?”
“I’d love to but we’re out of booze, babe. Party’s over.” He stood and collected the blanket and picnic items, including the half-empty bottle of Merlot. Amber sighed and joined him, wiping the sand from her knees and bikini bottom.
They refitted their lifejackets and packed their belongings. Amber helped her boyfriend — fiancé now, that would take some getting used to — overturn the kayaks again. He handed her an oar then dragged one boat to the water’s edge. Brad assisted her to get situated in the kayak’s tight space, and he pushed the craft into the water. He turned to his own while Amber drifted nearby.
It took a bit more skill to maneuver himself into the kayak. It was easier launching from a ramp than shore. He almost tipped once but regained his balance. “Careful hon,” she said. Amber peered at the city lights on the coast. “How do you know where we parked?” she asked.
He pointed. “You see that cluster of orange lights? That’s the harbor.”
There was a surreal quality in the air that came from seeing a town in the distance yet being far enough away not to hear the city noises. It felt like a dream, one from which Amber didn’t want to waken. She gave a prolonged glance at what was left of Ambergris, then she set her paddle in the water and started toward land.
They rowed for twenty minutes before she saw something familiar, a shimmer in the water like before. “There it is again,” she said.
“A spark.” It reflected off the moonlight. “Over there.” She motioned to the south but didn’t see it again.
“Dunno what it is,” he said. Marathon Key was close, the sounds from land faint on the wind. The sky had started to cloud, though that didn’t worry Brad. The rain wouldn’t reach them until they arrived home. After a while Brad turned and said, “I’ll race you.”
Amber smiled. “You’re dust.”
“I’ll even give you a head start.”
“I don’t need charity to kick your butt. I can do it fair and square.”
“Loser has to cook breakfast. Deal?”
“And just so you know, I’ll be hungry for bacon and eggs.”
“Tough talk,” she said, “especially from a man who’ll be serving me pancakes in bed.”
Sea spray splashed them as they rocketed toward shore. Pumping arms kept the crafts moving at a swift pace. The harbor wasn’t too far out, no more than five hundred yards. Amber gritted her teeth, ignored the growing stitch in her side. Brad’s kayak was beside hers. She didn’t focus on it for fear of losing her concentration and the edge. In time the pain in her ribs grew too great, so she slowed for a second to catch her breath. In that moment Brad took the lead, and now she permitted herself to look at him.
She eyed the kayak and it eyed her back.
A saucer-sized obsidian pupil stared at her, the moon mirrored in its dark abyss. Amber realized that had been what caught her attention twice before, the shimmer. Now she spied the monstrosity to which it belonged. The beast rose from the water with the stealth of a U-boat. Its massive jaws sprang wide, its head tilted backward.
Brad was oblivious to the creature as it swam behind him with gaping maw. Once he recognized the gravity of the situation — when he saw six-inch teeth closing around him like the entrance to a bottomless cavern — it was too late. Amber didn’t have time to warn him before the mouth snapped shut like a bear trap. Because its snout ran the length of a canoe, it had no difficulty devouring Brad and the kayak whole.
Amber stifled a scream. There was no thinking on her part, only instinct. The beast that had eaten her fiancé slipped underneath the black water. Amber pushed her alcohol-numbed body beyond its limits as she paddled for shore. The marina was close enough she heard the rumbling of ship engines and discerned lovers having dinner on the outback terrace of La Noche Café.
“Help,” she yelled. “Help me.” The diners were unaware of her presence, too wrapped up in their meals and conversations. Despite her side feeling ready to rupture, Amber worked through the searing agony. Her arms seemed heavy, so heavy, yet she willed herself onward. She would make it to land. “Somebody help,” she hollered, her voice already hoarse. Fearful of the creature that took Brad to a watery grave, she thought of nothing except the safety of the pier.
Jaws suddenly opened ahead of her, dripping saltwater and bits of shredded flesh.
Amber paddled hard to the left, sideswiping the beast. Its head twisted sideways and crushed the front end of the kayak with pointed, bloodstained teeth. It pulled the craft under the waves, trapping Amber inside.
The sudden change of environment shocked her system. She became disoriented as the boat sank. Amber kicked free of the kayak and thrashed upward, the lifejacket helping propel her.
Air flooded her lungs when she hit the surface. Arms and legs worked in tandem as she stormed toward the wharf. Whatever was after her, she prayed the craft kept it occupied.
Her prayers went unanswered.
The eye peered out from between her and land, between her and sanctuary. When its head lifted above the waterline, she spotted it clear in the moonlight for the first time. Here she recognized what it truly was, a monster from the deep.
She tried to call for attention but her vocal cords wouldn’t cooperate, frozen in fear. The scream died in Amber’s throat, and a moment later she did the same in the beast’s.
*Posted on behalf of Jared Sandman