A reverberating 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 freaking perfect,” Nathan said to the stifling interior of his car.
He peered through the windshield, sunlight glinting off a line of cars that stretched on for as far as he could see. “Come on, move,” he grumbled. He glanced into the rearview 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. No, he corrected himself, in all honesty, he knew why, he dropped his head back onto the seat with a solid thud. He was a procrastinator. He knew he was and there was denying it. With as often as his father, and grandfather, 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 cooled slightly when it hit 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 yelled at the line of cars as if that mere fact would get them moving. He couldn’t even call him to let him know he was stuck in traffic because his grandfather refused to join the rest of the twenty-first century and get a cell phone, saying it was just another addiction that was taking over society.
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 had just opened the door to step out of the oven and onto the proverbial 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 to this most recent enthralled audience.
Nathan shook his head, even when he was a small child he had never believed in the legend as most of the children, and many adults, seemed to, but even so, he still enjoyed listening to his grandfather. He was an amazing storyteller, it didn’t matter the tale.
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 everyone who knew him 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 faded into a scowl by the time Nathan reached his side.
"You are late. I already have you registered and they are loading the last of the passengers, but are almost ready to shove off." He pushed Nathan toward the ship, but it was unnecessary. Nathan actually wanted to go, now, but it had been different when this trip was first thrust upon him.
Nathan had not wanted to go in the beginning. No, in the beginning he had nearly kicked and screamed at the prospect of leaving his life behind and wasting a good portion of the summer, but he realized two things. One: he didn’t really have a life and two: it could be a fun adventure as a passenger as opposed to a fisherman on the job, at least he would be 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 stepped off the ramp and onto the ship, the rocking of the waves throwing her off balance.
Nathan reached out a steadying hand and glanced from the tightly coiled bun sitting atop her head and down her immaculate pants suit. As she gained her balance on her dainty high heels he nearly groaned. "Sure, let me get settled in.” He glanced down at his watch. “Meet me on the deck in an hour, we'll have a couple drinks and I’ll tell you what I know."
She nodded and walked down the deck, her arms out to her sides and her legs wobbling as the ship rose and fell. 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 like more like a limo and fancy party type.
After a short cool shower and a fresh set of dry clothes Nathan made his way through the ship. He nodded to other passengers as he passed them, but most just ignored him as they went along their way.
He stepped from the cool dimness below deck and into the hot brilliant 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, one 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 waitstaff 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 again, this time out loud, for permission to record. He said it was fine and looked up as the waiter stopped before them once more.
Cassandra 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.
She then began with the normal questions, like his name and age. 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 Bermuda, correct?" She looked to him for conformation.
"Well, actually it started on the island Banos Gratos, a small place right off the coast of Bermuda, 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 said looking 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, and faster 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 Jasmine, 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 wrong, she must have just been nervous 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 margarita 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.
"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, or maybe eight, 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 and barely rocked the boat, but I was still young 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 someday 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, reaching for 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.
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