a story

April 20, 2010
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Chapter One

Nerea’s tail muscles seared from overuse. Her gills were tender from their greedy intake of water, fueling her exhausted body with oxygen. She’s swum for days without sleep, only briefly resting when helpful currents pushed her along towards her destination; not so long ago, Nerea would never have guessed that she had the stamina as to force her to seek refuge on land.

All of Nerea’s part-fish and part-human kind, the Nereids, had kept well away from the shore for centuries. Although Nereids and humans shared some physical characteristics, it was said that humans were malevolent barbarians and that any natural urges to breathe air or explore land should be suppressed for fear of meeting one. Humans were definitely Nerea’s second biggest fear. A fear she would only face if it would spare her from her first.

For now, Old One remained imprisoned deep beneath the seafloor. But Rasiod would use his ill-gained powers as the new Regent to command his monsters to search down every trench and through every cave range in the ocean until Nerea and her brother Nerius, were caught. And if that happened (Nerea quickened her pace) only one member of her family would be left to witness the brutality that followed.

Nerea entered the near-shore zone with mixed feelings. On one delicately webbed hand, she had escaped open waters and the monsters searching for her there. She could rest soon. But on the other..

Where to begin? The water reeked of contamination, both equally foreign and foul. Nerea sealed her lips tightly shut and grimaced with repulsion. The grime collecting in the grooves between her hard scales slowed her pace. Nerea was forced closer to the surface by the rising seabed and dreaded the moment she would be able to find shelter before the scorching sun returned to burn her like the Executed over Pero’s Volcano.

But that wasn’t the worst of it. Every horror story Nerea had ever heard of the dreaded “people,” with their bizarre legs and creepy toes, frothed at the surface of her thoughts. If she failed to evade them, she would certainly be murdered. Whether they would eat her alive or scrape her body clean of scales or stamp her to death with their hideous feet remained the question.

Nerea’s tail twitched violently with muscle spasms brought on by extreme exertion. She pulled herself up the putrid, climbing seabed using her hands and forearms and, at long last, her head emerged into air. Her gills no longer of use, Nerea instinctively opened the membrane that had sealed her lungs closed since birth. For the first time in sixteen years, Nerea took oxygen in through her nose. It tickled down her trachea and filled her lungs, making her chest swell most unusually. Nerea stubbornly dragged herself on, her small, pale shoulders rising from the waves, then her spiny dorsal fins and finally her lavishly patterned, translucent tail fins.

Nerea felt horribly vulnerable in the weightless air. Lifting her tired limbs took at least twice as much energy as it did in the sea; once easy and graceful movements were exhausting and awkward on land. Nerea’s long tangle of hair hung strangely limp and motionless down her back. Her chest continued its odd movement with every breath. Out. In. Out. As she desperately dragged her now cumbersome form, the gravely sand chafed the scales of her arms, stomach and already abused tail until they were pink and numb. Nerea felt nothing as a glittering, oblong object worked free of the pouch just below her navel. It rolled along between the ground and the weight of Nerea’s tail until it struck a large rock and was unintentionally abandoned in the sand.

Only the black, cloudy sky witnessed Nerea’s painful half-crawl, half-slither across the beach, up some jagged rocks (where she sliced her hand on a broken bottle) and into a deep, narrow cave.

Chapter Two

Carrie dug her freshly manicured nails into the soft, leather armrest as the new driver took another speeding turn. Her gold Coach bag tumbled onto the floor of the Escalade, landing near the heel of her left Jimmy Choo. Carrie leaned forward to pick it up but was restrained suddenly by her seat-belt as the driver slammed the brakes. She watched, annoyed, as her bag tumbled forward and into the driver’s gloved grasp.

“I got it, sweetie,” he said with a condescending wink.

Something about the way he said sweetie caused a crop of nervous goose bumps on the back of Carrie’s neck. She always hated it when strangers called her sweetie, or honey or hon, but the sinister flash of teeth as this guy said it made it seem like a threat. Clearly Nipper, the miniature pinscher sitting on Carrie’s lap was thinking the same thing because a low growl rumbled in his tiny, gold-collared throat. Carrie reached out to take back her bag but the driver just tucked it into the console next to him.

“It’ll be safer in here,” he said.

For some reason it saddened Carrie to watch the shining, golden bundle be swallowed up by the black console. As if in resistance, it’s beautiful, braided strap fell limply over the side. The new driver (what was his name?) carelessly shoved the strap down and shut the lid with a final click. Carrie made a mental note to tell Erin, her mother’s personal assistant, to find another driver as soon as possible.

Cradling Nipper in one arm, Carrie struggled to smooth out her skirt. The jerky car ride wasn’t doing the expensive but fragile fabric any good. She watched out the window as they sped past the illuminated sign for the 101 and swerved into the fast lane of the California freeway. Thunder cackled in the black distance.

“Maybe I wasn’t clear.” Carrie said, feeling apprehensive. “I need to go to Vincenzo’s Ristorante on West Palm.”

“I know a shortcut,” said the driver with another irritating wink. “You just sit back and don’t worry your sweet little face. It’ll give you wrinkles, you know.”

Carrie gripped the armrest again as the driver veered into the emergency lane to pass the Hummer in front of him.

“I don’t want to sit back,” she argued. “My mom is waiting for me at Vincenzo’s. We eat there every Friday at nine. If I’m late they’ll give out table away and it will be the first time we missed out dinner in basically my whole life.” Carrie was exaggerating, but she hoped to inspire the strange driver to quit messing around so that she could just get away from him and meet her mom. With her own busy, 9th grade school and social schedule and her mom’s demanding job as a celebrity marine biologist, it wasn’t very often they had time to just sit and talk. That’s what Friday’s at Vincenzo’s were for.

Carrie watched the driver’s face in the dark rear view, waiting for a response. From what she could see it was a standard, manufactured looking face, with no distinctive wrinkles or moles. Just bleached-blond eyebrows above fake contact-blue eyes, with a nose neither small nor large. It was similar to so many worked-on faces Carrie had seen before. The driver looked up, catching Carrie’s eyes in the mirror. He flashed his perfect, artificially white teeth at her just before manically cutting off all the drivers in the lanes to the right lanes and exiting the freeway onto a dark, deserted road. Carrie heard thunder again, closer this time.

Something was definitely wrong. They were nowhere near West Palm and the bright lights of the city. Carrie senses jolted into their seldom-used mode of full potential. She felt her heart rate increase as she tried to think of a way to get help. Carrie unbuckles her seatbelt and lunged at the console, hoping to get to the cell phone in her purse. The lid wouldn’t open. To her astonishment the driver didn’t even bother to push her away. He just laughed.

“Locked,” he said between chuckles. Then he swerved the wheel violently, sending Carrie and Nipper crashing into the inside of the Escalade’s door.

Why is this happening? Carrie wondered. With one hand she found that her small, snarling dog was unhurt but livid. She cupped the back of her head, feeling intense heat where she had bumped it against the handle. She struggled to untangle her legs from her skirt and rise to her knees but, feeling the car coming to a stop, she wound Nipper’s leash around her wrist to keep him near and lay back down. Her hand came away from her head wet. She probably needed stitches but, Carrie thought with pride, she wasn’t squeamish and wasn’t stupid. Pretending to be unconscious, she lay face down on the floor as feisty little Nipper stood up to his full, 10.5-inch height and yapped murderously at the driver.

Unfazed, the driver lowered his window with the push of a button.

“Do you have her?” asked a woman outside. Carrie thought her voice sounded familiar. With as little movement as possible, Carrie undid the buckles of her heels.

“She’s knocked out in the back,” the driver answered getting out. Slowly, Carrie raised her head just enough to see out the tinted window. Straight ahead was a steep, rocky slope leading to a shore mostly covered with tall, black rocks. A flash of lightning revealed small, dark speckles on the rocks. Carrie had grown up near the beach and knew there was a good chance those speckles were caves. To Carrie’s left and right was the empty street. Behind her, in the direction of the driver, was the far-off freeway. Carrie tuned out Nipper’s vengeful barks and decided her best chance of escape would be to make a run for the caves and hide in one too small for the adults.

“Her purse is in the console, get rid of it,” said the driver. Carrie heard the jingle of keys being passed.

“And here are yours,” said the woman with another accompanying jingle. “You don’t have much time. Do you need help getting her into the trunk?”

Carrie knew she couldn’t wait any longer. With a burst of speed she threw open the Escalade door and took off, bare-footed down the slope. It took all of her concentration to not only keep her balance but to also restrain in her arms the irate, lunging Nipper. Despite his teacup size he bared his fangs and growled at the kidnappers so ferociously it would have made his 90 pound Doberman relatives proud. Carrie gripped the rocks with her toes and ignored the prickling of litter against her soles. The driver and woman barreled after her, slipping on the rocks in their unsuitable shoes.

Carrie leaped onto the gravely sand and darted towards the rocks as the first, fat raindrops fell. Just when she spotted the perfect cave the driver lunged and caught her around her ankles. Carrie lost hold of Nipper and fell face first into the sand, her hand landing on something about the size and shape of a marker, only hard like coral. Desperate and not fully understanding why, Carrie stuffed the object into her waistband as the driver’s hands clamped around her shoulders and yanked her to her feet. The rain thickened then, stinging Carries cut and smoothing her blond hair against her head.

Carrie flailed her arms and legs and screamed for help but the man was strong and the rain muffled her sounds.

“Why are you doing this to me?” Carrie yelled at the driver. “Don’t you know that my mother is Dr. Diane Channing? She’s on TV all the time! Everyone in the world will be looking for me! You’ll never get away!”

“Of course we know Channing is your mother,” said the woman. Carrie squinted through the rain in the direction of that familiar voice. “We wouldn’t need you if she wasn’t,” it said.

In t he rain Carrie could barely see that the woman had caught the end of Nipper’s leash. It took all the strength of her bony arms to hold him back from his loyal purpose to shred the driver with his teeth. Carrie knew why she recognized the voice when the woman flicked his soaked, auburn hair away from her freckled face.

“Erin?” asked Carrie, not wanting to believe what her eyes were telling her.

“You owe me a new pair of shoes,” Erin huffed, nodding towards a pair of broken, designer heels nearby in the sand. Carrie jumped at the sight of Erin in the following lightning flash. Her dark pupils glittering like knife tips at Carrie out of the rain smudged, black mess of makeup that made holes of her eye sockets and ran like war paint down her cheeks.

“We trusted you! Don’t do this me!” Carrie shrieked, resuming her battle against the man. With a mighty plunge forward, Nipper snapped the clasps of his leash, dodged Carrie’s kicking feet and landed a sharp bite on the driver’s ankle.

“Aaarrr!” the man roared, kicking out in agony and sending Nipper flying through the air.

Dread burned up Carrie’s throat as she watched her faithful dog soar the crash in front of her chosen cave with a painful slap of skin on wet rock. Lighting flashed again illuminating the gold collar around Nipper’s motionless neck.

“Get the dog!” the driver yelled to Erin over the following boom of thunder.

Erin scowled then clumsily scrambled up the slippery rocks toward Nipper. She paused at the mouth of the cave to wipe the rain from her face. Slowly the cautiously she reached out to grab hold of the still body.

When happened next was almost too fast for Carrie to see. Something, shiny and snakelike, whipped out of the cave and over Nipper’s body with a buzz and an eerie green flash. Erin staggered backwards just in time to avoid the hit but as a result slipped down the rocks and cut her forehead on a broken bottle. By the time Carrie looked back at the cave the thing was gone.

“What was that?” yelled Erin, scurrying farther away from the cave and the dog.

“I don’t know,” called the driver. “Kind of looked like a fish tail!”

“It lit up!” Erin shrieked. “I’m not going back up there! There must be eels in the caves!”

The driver contemplated for a moment. “Leave it,” he yelled. We’re late.”

Carrie struggled uselessly as the driver held a damp cloth to her nose and mouth. She was unconscious in seconds.

Chapter Three

Carrie woke up in pain in the darkness. She was lying on her side on a hard floor, her head throbbing and her wrists taped together in front of her. When her eyes adjusted she realized that her ankles were chained not only together but also to a large drain cemented to the floor. Carrie looked around. She was alone and seemed to be in a restaurant kitchen, one that had certainly been closed for a long time. Broken crates containing smashed glasses sagged against one wall and dirty, bent utensils littered the floor. A large, rusty pot near Carrie caught a slow trickle of raindrops leaking in through the ceiling.

Mom must be so worried, Carrie thought, and my poor, brave Nipper! She tugged at the silver tape around her wrists, refusing to cry and wondering why she’d been kidnapped. Why would Erin and that man want the daughter of Diane Channing? Did it have something to do with her work? Carrie didn’t see why two people who obviously didn’t care at all about dogs would be so interested in sea life. It can’t be the money. We’re rich but there are a lot richer.

Carrie scanned the floor for a knife to cut the tape with, but all she saw were spoons and even those were out of reach. She also looked for a phone, a computer, a Blackberry, anything that could communicate with the outside world with but found nothing. Gritting her teeth against a wave of dizziness, Carrie forced herself to sit up and felt something jab her in the stomach.

Carrie removed the almost forgotten object from the beach out of her waistband. The thing was covered in tiny, black, scale-like octagons. It was cigar shaped with rounded edges and hard as rock.

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