To the Ends of the Sea

      Nathan Black came from a long line of fishermen, and while he loved boats, he had no heart for fishing. He liked to party, he liked to play, and he lived for the bustle and excitement of New York City. When his grandfather coerced him into taking a trip on the family's commercial fishing vessel, he imagined many horrors, but cannibals, gorillas and a deadly island were more than he had bargained for. His only desire was escape, to bring the woman he had fallen in love with back to his family, but she had a secret and if he wanted her, he would have to change his life.
       Serena tried to keep her distance, but her heart would not allow her to do so. She had been alone for decades and it was safer that way, but now she could see a different future, one that was filled with its own dangers and sacrifices. If she were to return with him, to fully love him, she would have to leave the water behind and she was not sure she could do it.
      Both have to make a decision---The safety of a life they have always known or should they risk it all for a chance at true happiness.

    PROLOGUE
 
           Waves broke against the tall, barnacle encrusted legs of the pier sending a cascade of vibrations through the elderly man who sat cross legged before a group of awestruck children.
      The children seemed to notice neither the crash of the water nor the resulting tremors as he spoke. He kept his tone loud enough to be heard over the surf and yet soft enough that they had to lean close, and remain quite, to hear him.
      They were lost in the man’s deep and resonant voice, spellbound by his exuberant storytelling.
     An ancient tale of love, adventure and magic.
     
    
       “It all began on the island of Banos Gratos, which in the native tongue means, Brave Warriors. The island was alive with commotion as the villagers made preparations for their very first fish hunt.
      "You see, at one time, the fish around the island would come right up to the shore and the men only had to wade out into the warm waters and spear them,” he lifted his imaginary spear above his head, hovered it, and then lunged forward. The children jumped, shrieked with laughter and leaned closer. “Oh, but like all of God's creatures, the fish were smart. It did not take long before they no longer came to the shore, and the leaders had had to make a decision.
     "They could see the fish bounding out of the water not far from the shores, could see their path taking them farther and farther away from the island. 
      "The chief called on his bravest warriors and his smartest villagers and together they constructed a ship stronger than the waves themselves.
     “On this bright sunny day, the children were playing while all the men of the village carried the boat to the water, the helpful children darting in between the men as they struggled with the large craft.
    "Throwing the massive ship into the water the men laughed as the waves sent icy fingers to caress the sun darkened backs of the running and screaming children.
    "Amongst tears of joy and concern, everything was loaded and the men boarded the boat. With one last wave of farewell and good luck the villagers watched the warriors take sail.
     "On the first night a storm swelled across the waters until the waves crashed against the ship and the men scrambled to keep it afloat. The men were tossed around the ship like rag dolls, the thunder booming and the lightning crashing through the sky as if trying to set the sea itself ablaze."
     The children quaked and huddled closer to each other and to the man whose voice had rose with a fever of excitement and danger.
     "As their strong ship was besieged with water and wind it nearly went over. The men scrambled and fought and as the hours passed the storm finally released its grip on the ship and moved on to easier targets.
      "They were devastated to find one man missing from their crew. His name was Jacob Riley. The men searched, but could find no sign of him. Finally, they had no choice but to assume he was dead and continue along their way.
     "Oh, but Jacob was not dead, he was in fact opening his eyes to a beautiful island. He sat up, his hands digging into warm white sand. He looked down the wide expanse of beach and saw a woman, waist deep in the water not far from him. At first he was relieved because he thought he was back on their island, but it did not take long for him to realize that there was not another soul.
     "Hello, come and talk to me.” He gestured to her.
      She would only tell him she could not, and she refused to explain why. "But I will stay and talk to you. My name is Melinda." she told him."
      The children giggled at the high pitched voice that sounded nothing like a lady’s.
     "The days turned into months and Jacob found he could no longer hold his feelings in. His heart and his love belonged to the woman in the water.
     "Finally having decided that if she would not come to him, he would go to her, he had waded into the water and prayed she would not swim away. She did not, for she had fallen in love with him as well.
      “When he reached her, he found out why it was that she could not come to the beach. Looking into the clear water," his voice dropped and the children leaned even closer, "he could see that the bottom half of her was…that of a fish."
      All the children gasped, even though most knew the story and had heard it many times. 
     "Jacob did not care, for he loved her. They were married that night and not long after she had a little girl. They named her Serena."
      His face and his voice fell; the children clung to each other.
     "When Serena was very young Jacob was killed by a shark and not long after that her mother passed away as well. Some say it was another shark attack, but I believe she passed away from a broken heart.
     "But do not worry children, the fisherman say that they still see Serena swimming in the waters to this very day."  
      All heads turned toward the group as squeals of joy and excitement issued forth from the laughing children.
Chapter 1
                        
      A warning chime drew Nathan's attention to the red gas light flashing accusingly up at him. He slammed his hand into the steering wheel. “Just perfect,” Nathan said to the stifling interior of his car.
      He peered through the windshield, sunlight glimmering off a line of cars that stretched for as far as he could see. “Come on, move,” he grumbled. He glanced into the rear view mirror. The winding line of cars disappeared into a shimmering mirage of water somewhere in the distance behind him.
      Why he had left the house at this ungodly hour he could not fathom. He knew why, he thought, dropping his head back onto the seat with a solid thud. He was a procrastinator. He knew he was. With as often as his father complained about it there was no way not to know.         
     He leaned out the window and took a deep breath. His white t-shirt, half see-through with rings of sweat, clung to him, but at least the overheated wind that blew across the pavement felt cooler against the wet stickiness of his skin. I am going to be an hour late, he thought. At least an hour, if I don’t run out of gas before this damn traffic gets out of my way.
      “Grandpa’s going to be pissed,” he said to line of cars, as if that mere fact would get them moving. He couldn’t even call him because his grandfather refused to join the rest of society and get a cell phone.
      He reached over and hit the button for the air conditioner. It was just false hope he knew and when the blast of heat swept across his face, leaving it feeling as if the first layer of skin had been peeled back, he shut it off with a curse.
      He opened the door to step out of the oven and onto the frying pan when the traffic finally started to move.
      Thank you God, he thought as the cars picked up speed and the air circulated like a whirlwind inside his car first chilling his sweet dampened skin and then settling into a comfortable coolness as his shirt dried. It was a short-lived relief as the traffic once more trickled to a stop.
     He arrived at the docks two hours late.
     He caught sight of his grandfather, Olive Black, sitting cross-legged in the midst of a gaggle of children and couldn't help but smile. He could almost hear his grandfather's over enthusiastic voice telling the last of the Legend of the Angel of the Sea.
     Nathan shook his head, he had never believed in the legend. Even when he was a small child. He had always found it laughable.
     Grandpa Olive, at sixty-four years old, still had most of his hair, although it was thinning and gray. He was Nathan's grandfather, but all the kids and most of the adults called the short bow-legged man Grandpa Olive and had for as long as Nathan could remember.
      Grandpa Olive stood only to be swarmed by the kids who idolized him. He hugged them all and waved as they disappeared to find their parents. He rolled his shoulders and, spreading calloused hands across his lower back, stretched.
      His wide smile faltered when his gaze came to rest on Nathan and had faded into a scowl by the time Nathan reached his side.
      "You are late. I already have you registered and they are ready to shove off." He pushed Nathan toward the ship, but it was unnecessary. Nathan actually wanted to go.
      Nathan had not wanted to in the beginning. No, in the beginning he had nearly kicked and screamed at the prospect, but he had decided to treat it like an adventure, even if it was just on a fishing expedition. At least he was out from under his father’s thumb and his grandfather’s overly critical eye for a couple of weeks.
      He had only made it a few steps when he heard his grandfather behind him. “Be safe.”
      Nathan turned back to him with a wide grin. “Always.”
      Grandpa Olive waved him away with a roll of the eyes and a smile that said he knew better. 
     As Nathan boarded the large steel fishing boat he turned and waved good-bye to his grandfather. Grandpa Olive nodded with approval and gave a short wave in return.
     "Do you mind if I ask you a few questions?" asked a voice from behind him.
     "Huh?" He spun around and came face to face with a shining set of beautiful green eyes.
     "Sorry, I didn't mean to startle you. My name is Casandra Philips. I'm a news reporter for the New York Tribune and I wondered if I could ask you a few questions?" she said as they stepped off the ramp and onto the ship.
     Nathan glanced from the tightly coiled bun sitting atop her head and down her immaculate pants suit. When he ended his perusal at her dainty high heels he nearly groaned. "Sure, meet me on the deck in an hour, we'll have a couple drinks and I’ll tell you what I know." She was tall and shapely, beautiful, but with a snobbish set to her delicate features. She did not appear to be the type of woman made for a fishing boat. She looked more the limo and yacht type.
     After a short cool shower and a fresh set of dry clothes Nathan made his way through the ship. He nodded to people as he passed them, but most just ignored him as they went along their way.
      He stepped from below deck and into the warm bright sunshine, but here, out on the rocking waters, the breeze was not suffocating and the air smelled of fish and salty sea and freedom, not of oil and tar and desperation. He took a deep breath, yes he was glad he let his grandpa talk him into this. He gave a snort that finally drew the attention of some of the other passengers. He would keep the little secret of being happy on this trip to himself, his grandfather need never know.
      With a wide smile he made his way along the railing to find his reporter. He was not surprised that she had sought him out, he was after all the infamous grandson of one of the charter members of this fishing vessel and his family had been in the fishing business for many generations.
    The upper deck was laid out with chairs and most of them were already filled. He scanned the people, most of them looking like the tourists they were, until his gaze skimmed across the one he was looking for.
      He had almost missed her. Her pants suit was gone, as were the ridiculous high heals. Instead she was wearing a soft summer dress, that showed off the tanned skin of her shoulders, and a pair of pale blue flip flops that matched not only her dress but the slightly askew beach hat that had taken the place of her bun. At least he thought so, he looked closely at her wondering if that stern bun was still there, hiding beneath the big floppy hat.
     "Hello," he said with a smile, forced, but what he hoped looked real enough. He sat down beside her in one of the bright yellow deck chairs. "What would you like to drink," he asked motioning to a waiter.
     The waiter stopped before him with the subservient smile that seemed to be issued with a wait staff uniform. Nathan ordered a Margarita for Casandra and a Dr. Pepper for himself. After paying the waiter he turned back to her with a smile. "Is it Miss or Mrs. Philips?"
       "It's Casandra and may I start the questions now?" Her tone was short and clipped.
      As he glanced at her long legs disappearing beneath the frilled hem of her short summer dress he thought he was right about her being snobbish. "Sure, what can I help you with this fine afternoon?" he asked, hoping this would be a short interview.
     She reached into her bag, her long braid falling across her shoulder as she bent forward. He smiled, glad to see the bun was indeed gone. She pulled out a small tape recorder. She raised her eyebrows at him in question and he nodded. She clicked it on, placing it on the table between them.
       She asked the normal questions, his name and age and looked up as the waiter stopped before them once more. She pushed the salt from the rim of the glass into the bright green slushie and gave it a little shake before taking a long drink.
     Nathan took slow swallows of his soda, the frosty tingle of bubbles cooling his insides. He told her his name, which he was sure she was already well aware of and that he was eighteen, but soon to be nineteen.
   She smiled and then asked what he considered to be the important questions, the ones that she, and all the other reporters, came for.                   
     "I understand that the first trip was a thousand years ago and it started in Australia, correct?" She looked to him for conformation.                     
     "Well, actually it started on the island Banos Gratos, a small place right off the coast of Australia, to the best of my recollections of the old stories, a volcano erupted and it sank. The elders say that an angel was sent down from the heavens above." He raised his arms toward the sky as he spoke and shook them in imitation of the old ones and continued with an evangelical flair. "She told them ‘the island is going to sink my children, you must leave or perish.’ it is said that is why they all survived."
     "I take it you don't believe the stories?" She looked at his upraised arms.
     He followed her gaze and gave a little snort of laughter. Lowering his arms he shook his head. "Well, I just think it is more plausible that the reason they left the island was the fact they had chased all the fish away and the fishermen were having to travel for weeks to get enough to feed their families. Much like now, we have to travel quite a distance to find enough fish, but now at least, we have better equipment. My guess would be the islanders just decided to pack up and move. Like all hunters and gatherers, you go where the food is."
       "What about the legend of the mermaid, the Angel of the Sea, who is she?"
     "Her name is Serena, if you believe in such twaddle. They tell it to get the publicity." He laughed and added. “It must work, you are here right?”
     She gave a small laugh in reply. "I have always heard of these big fishing trips and I hate fish. When my boss told me that this was my new assignment, I was, let’s say, less than thrilled. The last fishing trip I was on was with my dad and I stayed on this little stinky boat and my room, I swear, was a fish closet." She giggled and Nathan could see the scowl lines around her eyes softening as she began to relax. He did not know if it was from the conversation or the fact her margarita was nearly gone, either way he was glad to see the smile.
     "'Fish closet'?" He asked.                       
     "That's a closet where you hang your fish instead of your clothes."  They both laughed. "That was the only time that I have ever been on a fishing boat, so I was really surprised when I came aboard. I mean, this is like a luxury liner with the waiters and margaritas.” She gestured to her drink. “I almost fainted when I walked into my cabin. It's all plush and comfortable, and my blankets do not smell like fish. I assume they will by the time we return, but for now at least it is nice.”
     He was beginning to think his first impression of her had been nervousness about the boat and the trip.
     "Either I get used to the smell during the trip or they do a good job of keeping the smell at bay, but I never notice a fish smell in my room." Nathan said.
      "Why is this ship so different?" She asked, licking some salt off her finger.
      "Well, at first it was just a regular fishing boat. It was undoubtedly a lot bigger than the one you went on with your dad.” With a smile he added, "It probably had fish rooms, instead of fish closets, but it was still just a big stinky boat filled with big stinky men."
     "So what happened?"
     "One day a reporter sat in to listen to Grandpa Olive tell the story, as I am sure you did today, and when it hit the newspaper, dad says we had a lot of people calling. So the fishermen paid to have the boat remodeled to attract more people and more money. That was about twenty years ago and the people are still coming." He watched a few sea gulls dipping in a graceful dance around the boat and could feel the tensions of the city slipping away.   
     "What do you mean more money?"
     "The fishermen charge a hundred dollars for the public to ride along just to catch a glimpse of her. Reporters, like you, get to come along for free, well for the free publicity that it gives to the boat." He took the last drink of his Dr. Pepper, sucking an ice cube into his mouth and chewing on it. He could feel the last of the city stress easing from his shoulders and back.
      After a few moments of silence, where she sat and watched the dance of the gulls, as he had moments ago, he asked if she had anymore questions.
     She looked back at him, her brow furrowed but the look was not snobbish, it was terrified. She shook her head and clicked off the voice recorder. "No, not for now, but if you don't mind…boats kinda make me nervous, so could you stay and talk to me?" She smiled sheepishly.
     “Of course,” he said with his most winning smile and gestured to the waiter for another round. “That is, as long as you tell me more about those fish closets.”
       “Deal,” she said with a grin. “I was seven, I think, and we were out on Lake Michigan. The weather had been great when we set out, but we had done some fishing and were heading back when a massive storm almost swallowed us.” She gave a small laugh, “Okay, my dad says it was a small storm, but I was seven and I hated the stupid boat to begin with. I was scared, and I may or may not have gotten sick.” She shook her head and took a long drink. “Anyway…” This time when she laughed Nathan could not resist joining her.
      Throughout the next few hours, and another round of drinks, they talked idly about her job and his graduation, her love of horses and his of boats, her dreams of making editor someday and his hopes that he could figure out what he wanted bad enough to dream for.
    Twilight was kissing the darkening sky when they finally said goodnight. Nathan watched her make her way to the cabins, her walk almost as askew as her hat. He wondered if it was the drink or the sea legs that she didn’t have and probably wouldn’t have by the time she got off this rocking tub, as she had so nicely called it.
    He smiled and turned to make his way to his own bed. He thought he would fall asleep quickly after the long day, but concerns for his future and the lack of direction of where that future was taking him kept him awake well into the night.
     When he finally drifted off a strange dream troubled his sleep and even not knowing what the meaning of it was, or perhaps because he didn’t, it made him nervous.
     He was swimming in the dark depths of the ocean, something he had done often, but this time he had no scuba gear. Although he did not appear to need it, he could feel the cool water going in his nose and out of his mouth. Could feel the slight burn of the salt water, but no pain, no panic.
     He swam around looking at the most colorful fish and plant-life he had ever seen. Blues, greens, yellows and even bright reds flashed in front of him as a school of small fish glided around him in a rhythmic dance.
     The water current tickled his skin as the fish swam close and then darted away. He laughed until he noticed that he was naked. He looked around nervously. He laughed at his silliness, after all, who would be down here to see him?
      As if drawn by this thought, something appeared in the darkness and was coming toward him. Fear touched him, whatever it was, it was a lot bigger than the fish that were swimming away from it. It was getting closer and closer, he could almost see it. His fear was replaced by curiosity, by anticipation.
     Closer, closer, just a little more and I'll know what it is, he thought.
     The closer it got, the more concerned he became, a dull buzzing was emitting from…from whatever it was. The closer it got the louder the buzzing became. He tried to swim away, but like most dreams, he pushed hard, but went nowhere.
      Panic filled him as the buzzing grew nearly deafening. It was getting louder, it was getting closer. He closed his eyes. Soon it was right beside him, grabbing him.
    He jerked his eyes open.
   Buzzzzz…he jerked upright, fighting with the hands that were entangled around his shoulders. It took him several long moments to realize the load blaring was his alarm, that the hands were actually his blanket and that he was inside his cabin and not deep beneath the pressure of the ocean.
        
Chapter 2
 Nathan pushed away the cobwebs of sleep and allowed the dream to fade into the dark recesses of memory. He dressed and went above board. His stomach rumbled, but breakfast was still a good half hour away. He looked at the warm morning sun as it played peak a boo with the thickening gray clouds. He closed his eyes and enjoyed the warmth while they still had it for the day. The heat seeped into his bunched muscles relaxing them and dispelling the last lingering fingers of the dream.
     Sunlight sparkled off the rolling blue waves and the roughening waters made the boat rock with a hypnotic rhythm that had always drawn him. He walked along the railing and watched closely for movement in the waters. Dolphins, whales and sharks were common sightings on these trips. He wished he had thought to grab his camera out of his suitcase. The sun slipped behind a cloud and a cold chill crept across him.
       He spotted Casandra snapping shots of the darkening sky, one hand on her camera and the fingers of the other wrapped tightly on the railing; her knuckles turning whiter with every swell.
      She was the only one on the boat that he knew, as far as passengers went, so he made his way through the milling people to her side. It would pass the time for him, and hopefully, he thought, calm her.
       “Oh my, look,” she pointed and put her camera back to her face. Gliding along and just breaking the surface was what appeared to a small pod of about six dolphins. They dove and squealed alongside the boat for a time and then rushed through the water to get ahead of the boat.
      Nathan heard the camera clicking as she snapped of shot after shot of their victory leaps. Water sprayed and their moist bodies glistened in the sunlight. The returned chattering as if they were daring the boat to go faster as they sped back in front of the boat.                           
       “What are they doing,” she asked with a breathless laugh.
      He glanced at her. Her hand had left the death grip it had been holding on the railing and she had both hands on her camera. “They are playing. Sometimes they will swim alongside the ship, which is called bow-riding. They say they do it to conserve energy by allowing the boats wake to pull them along, but that is definitely not what they are doing here. I think they are challenging us.”
    They stood in silence, watching, until the dolphins bored of their game and disappeared.
     Nathan watched her pull the film from her camera and reloaded with surprise, he didn’t know they even made cameras like that. His grandfather had one, but he didn’t think anyone younger than the dinosaurs had one.
     "I  heard that the fish are kept on the lowest deck, is that true?" Casandra asked, pulling him from his thoughts.
     "Yes, I believe it is." He shrugged.
     "You believe, you don’t know for sure?" She looked questioningly at him. “Isn’t your grandfather one of the charter members of this shipping company?”
     "Yes he is, and though I have been on this boat for most of my life, I have never bothered to go look around the lower decks. I know that we have a live well, where they keep the fish, but my heart has never been in it for the fishing. I guess that's why my dad and grandfather sent me on this trip, they want me to be a little more involved. To calm down and grow up. I think my grandfather is thinking I will take over someday."
      “You may want to bother yourself to go look around then,” she said with a wide smile.
    “Ha ha,” he said, pushing her along with pretend impatience. "Come on let's go get some breakfast."     
    By the time their breakfast was eaten the sky had thickened to a dark gray and the air itself seemed to be grumbling. “Is it going to get bad?” Casandra asked as she looked out across the frothy waves. Her hands tightened on the arm of the deck chair. 
      “I don’t think so. It is not uncommon for the waters to get rough. It might get bumpy for a little while, but this is a large ship and it is sound. Everything will be fine.” He looked out across the water and pried her cold fingers loose and held them.
      By the time lunch was served the black storm clouds were rolling overhead and the froth covered waves had progressed to white caps that slammed against the side of the ship. Lightning flashed and as thunder filled their ears Nathan began to believe it actually was going to get bad.
      When the rains started the Captain's voice came over the loud speakers advising everyone, except crew-members to retire to their cabins. Adding, in a calm voice, it was nothing to worry about, it was just a precaution.
     "You had better go, you will be safe in the cabin." He had to shout above the rising wind.
     "What about you?" She pulled at his arm.
     "I'll be fine." He told her, hoping he was right as he pushed her towards the stairs.
     Nathan told himself that he was staying to help out with whatever needed to be done. He had a lifetime of experience on ships and his knowledge could help. Slipping into one of the crew’s yellow rain slickers he pushed away the thought that he was only doing this to prove to his dad and grandpa that he was a good sailor, that he was grown up.
     Nathan took on the job of lowering the table umbrellas that were beginning to look more like parasails. He had more than half of them lowered by the time the surging water was crashing into the ship and streaming over the railings. The deck was becoming a treacherous slip and slide.
     An immense wave came rolling over the ship like the tongue of a sea monster that was deciding if it was worth the effort to swallow it. In one side and out the other, the deck chairs crashed together as they spilled into the ocean.
     Two crew-members were washed immediately across the ship, their arms flailing in search of anything solid. One man grasped the stair railing just as a cartwheeling deck chair crashed into the side of his head, breaking his grip, entangling in his legs and pulling him overboard.
     The second crewman had not been lucky enough to reach anything and was taken over the side as the water left behind a mess of mangled deck chairs, strewn sea-moss and several flopping fish.
     Lightening exploded across the sky and the ship leaned in the increasing winds until it laid almost completely on its side. The passengers were slammed around as the water began to seep under their cabins doors.
     That was when the screams began.
     The experienced crew-members knew the ocean well enough to know that the worst of the storm was almost over. The passengers, unfortunately, only knew that their cabins were filling with water and they tore from their rooms.
     They pushed their way over each other, up the stairs and into the full force of the storm.
     As a crashing wave descended onto the ship most of the stampeding passengers were washed back to the bottom of the stairs. Scared, covered with slimy green sea plants, but unhurt.
     Four new fishermen and three reporters had managed to make it to the top deck. Nathan struggled to reach them. They were frantically searching for someone, anyone to help them as if they were expecting to be placed into the lifeboats before the ship sank.
     The boat reeled onto its side and Nathan slid on the slime covered boards and could only watch as the heavy waves drug them unceremoniously overboard. They clung to each other in a scared mass until they hit the churning water. The white capped waves first knocked them into each other and then ripped them from the comforting arms of the group.
      And then they were alone.
     As Nathan leaned over the side staring into the black frothy water, looking for the ones who had been swept away when a swell, small in comparison to those that had been rocking the ship, crashed into the boat. Nathan lost his footing on the wet, slime covered deck, he grabbed for the railing, his fingers raking across it, but failed to find purchase on the slick metal.
      As he fell, his arm still stretching to grasp the railing, a wave reached up to meet him. It grasped him with frigid fingers that knocked the wind out of him and drove ice through his nerves. The grip of the wave tightened, jerking him deeper into its embrace. Salt water choked him and burned at his eyes.The wave swelled and bucked, and threw him into the ship.
      His head cracked into the hull, resounding with a hollow thud that no one heard. His unconscious body was drug far beneath the wrathful, storm-torn waves, his limp body slowly descending into calm, peaceful waters, unaffected by the raging battle right above.
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