Sneak Peek: Desperation
Standing with Dave at the edge of the pier, I stare up at the big ship that’s going to be transporting me to my own personal hell. I swallow hard, refusing to allow the anxiety and fear tying my stomach in knots show on my face. A girl has to have some pride.
I offer Dave my hand, and he shakes it, before apologizing again. “I’m sorry, Reagan. I really am. Just keep your head down kid, do as your told, and follow orders. Stay out of trouble and maybe I can get you out of there early for good behavior.”
Yeah, right. I make a face and swing my backpack over my shoulder, before offering Dave a tight smile. “Thanks Dave. See ya around sometime.”
I make my way up the ship’s embarkment, stopping to allow a guard in uniform check my paperwork and stamp my hand. He grunts, then waves me on. There are about 15 other people, all around my age or slightly older, boarding along with me. Yay.It’s gonna be a party.
When I reach the deck, we’re all herded into a holding area with chairs set up, and bottles of water set out. I mentally sneer. Why yes, mustn’t let the prisoners get dehydrated.
The captain of the ship appears, speaking over a megaphone. “Listen up folks. We’re heading out in about 10 minutes. Find a seat, make yourself comfortable. The journey is about 3 hours. There’s water available for those of you who may be thirsty, and we will be providing dinner about midway through the trip. We will reach the island after nightfall. I’d highly encourage you to be on your best behavior for this excursion, because your actions will be reported to your overseeing officer once you make it to the Grandy Island.” He glances around, taking a moment to look each of us in the eye meaningfully.
I shift in the uncomfortable chair I’d commandeered when hustled on board, and drop my gaze. Better that than allow him to glimpse any hint of rebellion on my face. Best behavior gets you no where, Reagan. The silent reminder is truthful, but stings nonetheless.
Another prisoner plops down in a chair next to mine with a huff. His hair is dirty blonde, a tad too long, and stringy looking. He looks over at me with a grin. “First time headed to Grandy Island?”
I slide my eyes in his direction, keeping my expression bored. “Yep.”
He lets out a bark of laughter. “Awesome, a noob.”
I glance at him, lifting a brow. “And?”
The guy shrugs. “Nothin’, you’re just in for a treat ’sall. Know anything about Grandy Island?”
I shake my head, my curiosity piqued in spite of myself. “Why… what do you know about it? You’ve been there before?”
The man’s lips twist. “Yeah, I’ve been there. More times than I care to count. It definitely ain’t no fancy rehab center, like they try to play it off as on paper.”
He leans in closer, lowering his voice. His eyes have a feverish sheen to them, and his breath is sour. I resist an urge to recoil. “It’s more like a freakin’ concentration camp. A hellhole, where inmates toil in the sun for hours on end.”
He shakes his head. “Trust me, it’s misery. Hard physical labor, and sometimes, the labor doesn’t even make sense. Serves no purpose. Like, you have to work your ass off just to make clothes and food for everyone living there, but then you’re also made to dig and refill holes, for no apparent reason. Break down and rebuild stone walls. It’s… I dunno… modern day torture or something.”
I swallow hard, squirming in my chair as I stare at him. I’m sure incredulousness is written all over my face, but I don’t care. This dude is crazy. No way could this “reintegration camp” be anything like that. It sounds downright medieval.
The guy leans back in his chair and flips his hair out of his eyes, a smirk on his face. “You’ll see.”
My mind starts racing as I begin picturing all sorts of wacky scenarios in my head about where I’m going and what life there will be like. The minutes tick by, turning into an hour. Which means we’re an hour closer to Grandy Island. I look at the ragtag bunch spread out in chairs around me, and feel a surge of panic.
I can’t do this. I can’t go to this place. I can’t go to this… this… little island of horrors. If what this guy says is true, I can’t do it.
I glance around the ship, noting the guards patrolling the perimeter of where we’re all sitting. We’re allowed to get up and move around, we just can’t go beyond the guards. As I watch, a girl stands up and walks over to one of them, and he points her down a hallway behind him. Except when we have to use the bathroom, apparently.
Watching the girl disappear into the darkness, my gaze is caught by a flash of light just beyond her. Looking out over the railing of the ship, I realize the flashing I see is lights in the distance. We must be passing another island or something. If I can see lights, that must mean we aren’t too far from the shoreline.
I leap to my feet, mind racing as give a nod to the man sitting next to me who so kindly shared his tale of woe. I grab my backpack, draping it over my shoulder. My forehead is damp with cold sweat, and my heart pounds like it’s going to bust out of my chest, but I don’t care. I have to find a way off this boat.
Calming myself and arranging my features into some semblance of, I don’t know, not panic, I approach the guard.
Clearing my throat, I ask, “Sir, may I use the restroom?”
The guard glances at me, clearly bored, and nods. “Sure. It’s down the hall, to the right. Make it quick though, I don’t want to have to come looking for you.” He gives me the requisite stern look, before pointing in the direction of the bathroom.
Swallowing hard, I nod. “Sure, no problem, I’ll be fast.” I shift my backpack, and the guard puts a hand up. “Wait a minute. What do you need your back pack for if you’re just going to the restroom?” He squints at me suspiciously.
I shrug, remaining nonchalant as possible. “Umm.. you know… girl stuff.” I give him a pointed look, and then glance down my belly.
The guard flushes crimson, and backs up a hasty step. “Oh, I see. Right. Okay, yeah, no problem. Like I said, right down the hall, to your right. Make it quick.”
I nod again, ducking my head and letting my long dark hair hide the small grin I can’t keep from breaking across my face. I shoulder past him and make my way down the hall, mentally gearing myself up for what I’m going to do next.
Looking behind me, I check to make sure the guard isn’t watching as I make my way down the hall, and hang a right. Then I pick up the pace, following the hallway past the bathroom, right around to the other side of the ship. Thankfully it’s not a huge vessel, or my reckless plan would never work.
The wind whips at my hair as I step close to the railing and grip it, staring down at the dark water churning below. I take a deep breath, questioning myself. Reagan, maybe you need to think on this a bit more.
I shake my head. There’s no time. We’re already halfway to Grandy Island. If I’m going to make a move, it has to be now, before those lights I saw a few minutes ago fade to oblivion. Tightening the straps of my pack around my shoulders so it’s snug, I look around once more, making sure no one is nearby.
Gingerly, I begin to climb up onto the rail. My foot slips and I almost fall, eliciting a surge of terror. Gasping, fingers wrapped around the iron railing in a death grip, I inhale a few deep breaths, soothing myself.
Easy, girl. You want to jump so you can make it away from the boat, not fall and bonk your head so you wind up shark bait.
Taking another bracing breath, I navigate over the rail and balance carefully against the iron. I hesitate one more second before closing my eyes and leaping into the murky darkness below. Eyes squeezed tight, I try not to scream as I drop through blackness.
Suddenly water closes over my face, stealing the breath from my lungs. I choke, and start kicking, hard, instinctively propelling myself away from the churning water frothing in the wake of the small ship.
Frantically, I kick my feet, trying to break water and gain air. After a few seconds that feels more like minutes, I break the surface with a gasp, gulping in giant lungfuls of oxygen as I kick harder and start using my arms to swim. My backpack feels like dead weight on my back, but I’m loath to ditch it. Even though everything will be a soggy mess, it’s really all I’ve got.
Determined, I kick harder, pumping my arms and pushing myself through the warm water with ever ounce of strength I can muster.
Please God, don’t let there be any sharks looking for dinner, I pray silently.
Then I push fear of the deep unknown back, chalking it up as an unnecessary focus that’s only going to freak me out if I keep thinking about it. Bobbing along the surface of the water, I keep my head tilted skyward and make my way around the back end of the ship. My goal is to, God willing, reach the lights I estimate to be about a mile and a half away.
Swimming hard, fighting the strong current paired with lazy swells, I start panting. Exhaustion is wearing me down. I glare up at the night sky, sprinkled with cheerful stars as I engage in a battle against the sea.
What the heck were you thinking, Reagan, you big dummy? The mental chiding doesn’t make me feel any better. It’s clear I vastly underestimated just how difficult jumping a ship and swimming to shore would be.
Flipping over on my back, I float for a few minutes, still kicking in the general direction of the lights, but with less vigor. Staring up at the speckled, moonlit sky, I can’t help but appreciate the beauty, even if it does feel as though it’s mocking me right now.
The moonlight flashes in the whitecaps of the waves, and despite my rising fear, it’s peaceful this far out on the water. Then the word shark invades my head again. I resume kicking faster and use my arms to windmill me in the direction of shore, my backpack serving as a floaty of sorts.
It feels marginally easier to swim this way, so I stick with it, clenching my jaw in sheer stubbornness, refusing to stop kicking. My legs quiver from exertion, and my arms ache, but I grit my teeth and ignore all of it. After awhile, I’m so focused I don’t even realize I’m nearly there, until suddenly I think I feel sand beneath my feet. I gasp and flip back over on my stomach, waiting for the current swell to abate while I feel around with my toes.
Yes! I can feel sand! Looking up, I see lights flickering closer now. I hold my breath and sink underwater. Digging my toes into the ground for traction, I push myself forward, breaking through the water, then sinking and doing it again, pushing myself closer and closer to the beach’s edge with every leap forward.
I do this over and over, using the momentum to shove myself through the churning water. It’s something I used to do as a kid for fun, but this time it’s literally saving my life.
The water pours off of me as the waves get shallower and shallower, now crashing around my hips rather than swelling.
Slogging through the waves, I flip my backpack off and drag it behind me, first stumbling and then all but crawling the rest of the way to the shore. Head down, my hair a sodden sheet tangling around my arms, I fumble forward, face planting on the edge of the beach, water flooding up my nose.
Choking on a mouthful of salty sea, out of nowhere strong hands grip my arms, and yank me upright out of the waves. I spit sand and water out of my mouth, coughing. Dazed, I look up, water streaming from my eyes, the sting of salt making them burn. I can just make out the shape of a man, wearing what appears to be a uniform.
Oh no! All that work and you’ve been found already? Good going, Reagan!
The man half drags, half carries me the rest of the way out of the waves, before letting me go. Once on dry land, I collapse, chest heaving, panting, every muscle in my body quivering with fatigue. The stranger reaches out as though to help me up, and I wave him away, trying to recover my breath.
Before I manage to fully catch it, he all but bellows in my ear, “What the hell do you think you’re doing?! Are you flippin’ crazy or something?”
My chest heaves. Hunched over and still spitting gritty sand from my mouth, I shove my hair aside to glare up at him. The moonlight has become so bright it could almost be daytime, so I have no trouble seeing him clearly once the water is gone from my eyes.
Looking him over, I notice he’s definitely wearing a uniform, but not like the kind the guards on the ship were wearing.
I frown. No, this uniform is kind of odd, really. Like a cross between an alter-boy and a cop or soldier or something. I wrinkle my nose, trying to make out the word embroidered across the front. Squinting, I can just barely see what looks like Drake spelled out.
My gaze shooting daggers at odds with my tone, very gently I inform him, “I’m right here next to you, buddy. You don’t have to yell. And no, I am not crazy. I’m desperate, there is a difference.”
Climbing slowly to my feet, I realize once standing that Drake or whoever he is, is pretty dang tall. I’m no slouch myself at 5’8 but he towers at least a good 4 or 5 inches over me.
My belly does a tiny little somersault when I notice how handsome he is. Clearly strong if his grip on me had been anything to go by, lean and muscular, with white-blonde hair. I can’t quite make out the color of his eyes in the moonlight, but I can see that whatever color they are, they are bright and beautiful.
Why do men always get the pretty eyes? I grump to myself. And considering he lives on an island, he’s probably rocking a year round tan.
I grimace. He’s the total antithesis to my long dark hair and moss green eyes, pale skin and slim frame. The only thing in the looks department we do have in common is our above average height. And considering the way he’s currently glaring back at me, clearly the belly twisting somersaults I’m experiencing in reaction to him are not reciprocated.
“Desperate, why? What in God’s good name possessed you to jump off a ship into the middle of the freakin’ ocean? And after dark, no less?”
Trying to wring some of the water out of my hair and my clothes, I glance up at him, ignoring his question. “Am I on Grandy Island?”
The man I think is named Drake looks confused. “Grandy Island? Never heard of it. You’re on Halcyon Island right now.”
I frown. Well, at least that answers one question. Thank God I didn’t inadvertently land myself on Grandy. Thinking fast, I nod, trying to come up with a story that will sound plausible. If this Drake guy has never heard of Grandy Island, I certainly don’t want to tell him my full story. I have no idea if he will feel compelled to report me or what.
He shifts impatiently. “So why so desperate? What made you jump off a ship?”
I shrug, the fib tripping off my tongue more easily than I expected, “I didn’t exactly jump. I was on a cruise ship, and being dumb. I fell overboard, and the only thing I knew to do was swim for the lights that I could see.”
‘Drake’ looks skeptical. “Fell off a cruise ship? That doesn’t explain desperate.”
I snort. “Well obviously you’ve never fell off a ship before, now have you? Dark, murky, possibly shark infested waters suddenly closing over your head can have a pretty desperate affect on a body.”
I think I see the ghost of a smile cross his lips before it’s gone, like it never was. Great, the man finds me amusing.
Even more annoyed now, I demand, “Look, thanks for dragging me the rest of the way out of the water. Do you think you can take me to someone with some authority around here? Someone who might be able to help me out or something?”
My tone must offend him, because annoyance and surprise crosses his face. His brows lift as he stares at me, before saying flatly, “Sure. I need to take you in, anyway.” He gestures impatiently, directing me to walk ahead of him.
Feeling my ire bubble a notch higher at his attitude, I stomp forward, hefting my soggy backpack over my shoulder with a huff.
Is it really too much to ask that when a hot guy finds a perfectly awesome girl, washed up on the beach, they be just a little bit amazed and enthralled? Really? I don’t think that’s a lot to ask. Little Mermaid ring any bells, mister?
Shooting a glare over my shoulder, I huff and puff my way up the beach, the man named Drake falling in mere steps behind me.
Grumpy, sodden, exhausted, silent tears well up and slip down my cheeks and I brush them aside. Sighing, I look up at the moonlit sky and mouth silently, God… I’d really like a do-over of this day.