Charlie reached down blindly and snatched a bit of driftwood, throwing it with all her might back into the water. As if she could beat it into answering her. As if she could hurt it. “Why?” she cried again, quieter this time, her voice broken by the sobs she couldn’t hold back any longer. It had already been five weeks. Every passing day made their survival less likely. She’d held herself together for so long, but she couldn’t anymore. The breaking of her heart wouldn’t let her.
She seized more wood, more rocks, anything that came to hand, and hurled it back into the water, as if she could trade these things for her parents, as if there was some balance that, if only she found it, they would be given back to her. She threw and screamed and cried until her arms ached from the strain and her head started to pound in time with her grief. She staggered on feet numbed from freezing water as her hands closed around one last piece of wood. Splinters dug into her hand, the first physical discomfort to grab her attention. Pain and blood and the weight of the wood made her stop and look. Charlie sucked in a shuddering breath and squinted in the darkness.
It wasn’t driftwood she was holding. It was debris washed ashore. The wood was flat and, except for where it was torn, smooth. It was newly wrecked. The piece in her hand was small and indistinct, and it could have come from anyone’s boat, but she knew it wasn’t anyone’s boat. She knew.
Her rage evaporated, leaving with a sucking sensation that left no room for anything but shock. Charlie pulled the small piece of flotsam to her chest, letting it bite into her skin, letting wood pierce flesh and her blood mingle with the salt water. She sank to her knees. Water rushed around her, the waves hitting her mid-chest, some water spraying over her head. She clutched the wood as if it were a talisman that could stave off the rest of the world, and allowed her shock to swallow her completely.
“I’m sorry,” someone said. Charlie blinked dazedly, trying to see though the ocean seemed a million miles away. He came up out of the water. No, the water fell back from around him. No, he gathered the water around the two of them like a cloak. No – Charlie’s mind wasn’t working and could not make sense of what she was seeing. However he did it, he was suddenly before her, pulling her to him. He plucked the last piece of her parents’ life from her arms as though it was nothing and pulled her closer until all she could see was him. Arms held tight, wrapping around her back, around her shoulders, around her legs. “I’m sorry,” he said again when she opened her mouth to protest – not for her safety, not for his invasion, but for the piece of wood that was her last connection to her parents. “There isn’t any time.”
He lowered his head to hers, touching his lips against her mouth. She thought he would kiss her, but then water poured through her mouth, into her lungs, through her whole body, cold and icy and painful and wonderful. She had an instant to think, “I’ll die with them,” and then her skin was torn from her body in pain so intense it took her awareness with it.
(A Marriage of Land and Sea is forming up to be a short novel/long novella. It’s actually shaping up to be a trilogy, and chances are really, really good that those of you subscribed to the story subscription for book one will get free copies of books two and three when they’re ready . . . just sayin’ . . . )