Sneak Peek: The Shape of Seaglass
This is a writer's blog, so you'd better have some evidence that I actually do what I claim to, right? I hope to eventually have at least one snippet posted for each of my projects so you can all get a real idea what they're all about - and in honour of restarting this wonderful project, I thought I'd share one of my favourite snippets from this one first! This is the first scene in 'The Shape of Seaglass' that my two MCs, Julien and Destiny, meet each other - and prove that there's no better way to make friends than getting yourself into a life threatening situation ;) Destiny is a really fun point-of-view character to write from - not the least because when I do, I get to pretend I'm in a beautiful little harbour. If you'd like more information on their story, you can take a look at their project page here!
And without further ado, the snippet!
Sunsets look better on the harbour. Actually, sunsets look better anywhere that isn’t my silent, empty house.
The wet weather-beaten stones shimmer underfoot as I amble along the outer-wall to the lighthouse. Behind the higgledy-piggledy selection of houses stacked up the hill, rosy smudges of clouds streak across the sky, like stubborn strands of candyfloss. I run my fingers over the iron railing by the steps, displacing thick drops of seawater, as I’m smacked by that salty smell of scales and seaweed.
At this time of evening, some of the fishermen are starting to head in with their catches and get them stored in the refrigeration unit. Ice cubes clatter on the deck of Great Uncle Jim’s little trawler as he sorts through his mackerel and cod; even from here, I can see there’s less than he would have liked. He catches my eye and waves, tossing me one of his undefeatable smiles as the easterly breeze whips his hair into a bird’s nest.
I wave back, the seaglass bracelets jangling on my wrist, and keep walking. I’ve nearly reached the stocky white lighthouse, streaked with tearstains of rust, that stands where the old wall drops off into the clear sea. Usually clear, I should say; at the moment it’s churning with whitewater in the wake of Ben’s shorebound trawler. I lower myself onto the stone, bending one leg and dangling the other over the edge. About five little ship-shaped dots are scattered over the distant horizon, and I let myself hope that one of them is our Selkie — which is unlikely. Dad hardly ever gets back before nine, and that’s only if he’s caught enough fish.
And as much as I tell him otherwise — that I really can wait to get the new schoolbag and I don’t mind just stitching up that tiny tear in my shorts — I don’t think he feels that he can ever catch enough.
The water glitters a tropical turquoise between breakers, mostly around the rocks to the south side of the harbour; tourists say that it’s prettier than the Mediterranean, and I’m sure I’d agree if I’d ever been there. Dark shapes dart in and out from the shadow of the cliffs, flashing glimpses of silver scales.
It’d be such a mood-lift to see a seal right now. Just a hint.
In fact, there is something a little further out… no, hang on. That’s a person — a swimmer. Blue top – maybe a rash vest? – and thick, waterlogged hair. For a painful second, I almost think it’s Austin.
He’s just about close enough to see, but far out enough to get caught by a current around those rocks. Foam engulfs him as he thrashes against the water, his head bobbing up and down until it’s barely above the surface.
That’s not a swimmer. That’s someone drowning.
Call the Coastguard. I fumble in my pocket for my phone and realise I’ve forgotten it again. My gaze flickers from the swimmer to our house and back again.
You’re supposed to call, I know you are… but what if he gets dragged under before they arrive? Should I run over to Uncle Jim? What if he can’t get out of the harbour in time? He could radio out – but what if no one’s close enough?
My gaze snaps back out to where the person was fighting the whitewater among the rocks – and I can’t see his head above the surface. My chest tightens. The seconds pass. Still no sign.
He only has three minutes underwater before he drowns.
I toss my flip-flops off and scramble down the steps on the inside wall, screaming at Uncle Jim and anyone who will listen that someone’s in trouble — hopefully they’ll come after me if this goes horribly wrong. Before they can stop me, I grip the rail with one hand and jump feet first into the April sea.
Icy water shoots up from my feet to my neck and I gasp for air, hanging onto the barrier, keeping my head above the surface. Give it a few seconds for my lungs to restart, waiting for the cold water shock to release its crushing pressure on my lungs. I can’t help him if I’m drowning myself.
We’re good. Breathing. Can’t waste any more time.
I push off the wall, my bare feet grazing the barnacle-covered stone, and go straight into front crawl, power surging from my shoulder to my fingertips and propelling me forward with each stroke. Breathe to the side. Get around the edge of the wall. Three more strokes. Breathe. Look up for the swimmer. Still not there.
Rotate at the shoulder. Stroke. Pull back. Breathe. Kick for dear life. My hands are going numb. My wet hair clings to my face. Water rushes into my ears.
Wet, rasping gasps echo off the waterworn cliffs. He’s above the surface, eyes wide, trying to choke back waterlogged air.
“Hang on! Don’t panic!” I yell between breaths. He spins in my direction, still thrashing and gasping and spluttering as he inhales more seawater. “Just hang on!”
One, two, three, breathe. Austin’s voice echoes in my mind, as if we were still kids training for the local triathlon. One, two, three, breathe.
Another swell rolls towards him and shoves him under. He doesn’t pop back up.
I’m closing the distance. My arms are burning. An engine roars to life somewhere behind me, and the thwump of a hull on water tells me backup is coming.
Five metres. Four metres.
Swim back up, swim back up…
Come on, come on, come on…
I still can't see him.
Casting my gaze left, right, towards the rocks, I find no sign of him. With the roar of the oncoming vessel filling my ears, I cram a huge breath into my lungs and duck underwater.
Saltwater stings my eyes and forces its way up my nose. I blink, trying to focus.
There. A lanky, water-misted figure scrabbling for the surface, bubbles of oxygen escaping from his nose. I plunge towards him, ignoring the pocket of air trying to force itself up my windpipe. The water resistance leadens my arms. My frantically kicking legs aren’t moving me fast enough.
He's still sinking.
Muted sounds of moving water trickle past my ears. The current drags at my ankles, and I surge against it, steeling myself to take his weight. My fingers brush the edge of his t-shirt, but he doesn’t turn his head. His eyes are half-closed. He's passing out.
Three minutes. Three minutes.
My throat is tight, head spinning, my heart thumping so loudly I can hear it in my waterlogged ears. I shove my arms under his shoulders, and kick with the last dregs of my strength away from the darkness and towards the surface. His dead weight drags on my arms as I haul us upwards.
Every second seems too long. My lungs feel like over-inflated balloons. Black spots start dancing in the corners of my vision.
We’ll make it. We’ll make it.
Watery light finds us, illuminating his face. Eyes almost closed. He’s no longer struggling.
Nearly there, nearly —
Air! Sweet, sweet air.
Gasping back the biggest breaths I can take, I push the boy’s head above the water with trembling arms.
“H-hey!” I don’t know how long I can keep his head up – I don’t know if he can even hear me. “Hey, wake up!”
I think I see his eyelashes flutter – then he inhales. Thank goodness.
He throws himself forward suddenly, shoulder smacking me on the jaw, and starts hacking up seawater, kicking wildly, the heels of his trainers bruising my shins. I try to grab him, to keep him from going under. “Whoa, whoa –”
He yelps as my hand makes contact with his bare arm, and gestures at something beneath the surface, splashing water into my eye. “Des méduses – méduses!” Seawater rattles in his throat, his eyes wide and darting, his feeble strokes are doing little more than churning up foam. What the heck is he saying? Is that French?
Only then do I see the ugly red welts bubbling along his exposed neck. He starts back, and I catch sight of a brainless bowl of jelly bobbing a few inches away from us. Brown lines radiate from its centre, spindly-spaghetti tentacles trailing along behind it.
Another swell drives the malicious blob towards his hand and he throws his weight back, pushing me underwater. I’ve gotta calm him down before he gets both of us killed!
Shoving my head back up, I choke on a mouthful of salt and force out, “Non… non dangereux!” He stops flailing backwards, fixing me with wide eyes. “Non.” Stuffing more air into my lungs, I jerk my head towards Uncle Jim’s advancing vessel, flicking my hair right into my mouth. “We need to… we’ve gotta get to the boat.”
Please understand me.
“O-okay,” He takes a shuddering breath, “Okay.”
Uncle Jim cuts the engine less than thirty metres away – as close as he could get without breaching his hull on the rocks, but far enough to make me want to sob at the thought of swimming out. He reaches down… and something sails through the air towards us. I only register what it is when it splashes me in the face.
I actually do sob this time, throwing my hands through the faded life-ring and interlocking my numbed fingers. The boy loops his arms through it, resting his forehead on the plastic.
Focusing on nothing except keeping my grip and keeping my head up, I let myself be pulled in, the water dragging on my t-shirt and shorts. We hit the side of the Mary-Jane and Uncle Jim’s big hands grab my shoulders, pulling me onboard and lowering me down amidst all the tackle and crates. The boy tumbles over the side after me and collapses against the wheelhouse wall, breathing hard and coughing up seawater.
“You shouldn’t have done that, Destiny. You really shouldn’t have done that.” Uncle Jim drops to his knees beside me, his Cornish drawl deeper than usual. “Are you alright?”
I nod, just slightly, and open my mouth to say something, but my teeth start chattering like one of those wind-up toys and I only end up biting my lip. He rubs my shoulder, giving me a thin smile, before running into the cabin for something or other. I can only hope it’s a blanket, because the sharp evening chill is already slicing at my bare arms and legs.
Am I just shivering, or am I in shock? I could have drowned… I could have died. What would that have done to Dad? After Mum, after everything? But I couldn’t just stand and watch, not while someone was in danger, not when I could do something, not when I couldn’t save Austin…
I press a hand to my chest, my breaths coming faster and faster, my lungs unable to snatch enough oxygen. Need more air. I can’t breathe. What on earth did I just do? Did I get cold water shock after all? Is there water in my lungs? Am I second-hand drowning? Oh gosh, oh gosh —
Something creaks beside me, and my gaze snaps up. The French boy. Still panting, water dripping from his eyelashes and trickling down his nose. His eyes settle on mine, his hand reaching towards my shoulder, then jerking back again.
“Are you… okay? Can you… pouvez-vous respirer?”
“I– I dunno —”
“Okay, okay, ralentissez. Like this,” His hand hovers over his diaphragm as he inhales through his nose, waits, then releases his breath, a little shakily. Breathes in again, and out. Looks at me, like he wants me to copy him.
I stare at the rust chipping at the paint on my uncle’s rig and swallow, breathing in tandem with him. In and out. Inhale, exhale. My nose stings, but the imaginary blockage in my chest begins to clear, and my vision sharpens. Air fills my lungs, and I shake off the lightheadedness. Inhale, exhale.
The ringing in my ears is replaced with a seagull’s distant scream, the muted thunder of waves breaking against the cliffs, and the soft, accented voice of the boy.
“You are okay now?”
“I think so,” Scraping my hair off my forehead, I let out one more long breath and blink at the strawberry-tinted sky. I’m alive. I’m safe. “Yeah, I’m OK now. Thank you.”
He blinks, lips parting in sudden realisation. “Oh! Non, thank you – very much, so much–” His fingers begin to tangle themselves in the bottom of his soaking t-shirt. “I – I don’t know how to –”
“S’ok. Honest.” My lips curve upwards a little, and I can taste the salt clinging to them. “I’m just glad you’re okay.”
His fingers drop from the shirt hem, and he gives me a small, wavering smile as my uncle arrives with foil blankets. They feel kinda crunchy and weird, but I guess they were more designed for warmth than comfort – and at the moment, warmth is good enough.
It’s only when the boy wraps one around himself that I notice how much he’s been shivering too. He winces when the foil makes contact with his skin, which is striped with track-marks from the jellyfish’s stingers. Goodness, that must have been painful – no wonder he was panicking.
Maybe I should explain.
“It’s not dangerous,” My voice is barely loud enough to crack the glassy silence. “It won’t kill you. I’m sorry, though – I know it really hurts.”
“Merci,” He tugs the blanket forward and winces a little, “C’est – it’s not too bad.”
I’m about to ask where he came from, but the engine starts up just then, drowning out any attempt at conversation. We settle into the stern, grabbing onto the winch for support. The boy white-knuckles the iron bar with one hand and presses against the side with the other, pushing himself as far into the corner as possible. I study him – politely – though the rocking and bouncing of the hull is giving me a whopper of a headache.
His mid-brown hair would be fluffy, I think, if it wasn’t still sticking to his forehead in wet tangles. A plain t-shirt and dark-blue joggers cling to his slight frame – he looks like he could be a runner. He’s still wearing shoes — laceless trainers. He wasn’t planning on swimming today, then. Did he fall in? Maybe he missed one of the danger signs dotted around the coastal path, though he doesn’t have any scrapes or bruises – just the reddened stings blazing across his skin. He must have swum right into it. Bleugh. Poor guy.
I still haven’t asked him his name.
What did you think? Let me know in the comments!