The Calling Page 8

“Great whites don’t come this far inland,” I called back. “And I doubt this stretch of water is deep enough for orcas, but even if it is, they don’t attack in the wild. You’re only at risk if you’re jumping into their aquarium tank.”

“Kenjii just knows Maya doesn’t like to swim,” Daniel said. “Here, I’ll take her—”

He reached for her collar. She growled and he pulled back.

“Or maybe not…”

Kenjii lowered her head and whined, as if in apology.

“She’s scared and confused,” I said. No, we are, and she’s sensing it. “Just give me a sec to calm her down.”

I petted her and promised her it was okay. Once she’d relaxed, I told Daniel to go on ahead with her, so she couldn’t see me. She glanced back a couple of times, but when I seemed to be staying put, she let Daniel take her for a swim.

Corey went in behind Hayley, herding her. She was on the swim team, so she should be fine, but she was still disoriented from her near-drowning experience. Sam went next, her chin up, expression unreadable. Daniel had asked Nicole—who was also on the swim team—to go last and help anyone who fell behind, namely me.

I’d estimated the strip of water to be about a kilometer. That’s just over three thousand feet. Not a short distance. Not an incredibly long one either, or so I kept telling myself as I paddled through the frigid water. It was half of the distance from my house to the park gates. One sixth the distance of the Run for the Mountain event I did in Nanaimo every year. One twentieth the distance of the Harbour City Half Marathon I ran last fall.

Easy. Except for the fact that I loved to walk and run, but hated swimming. Part of my skin-walker heritage, I guess. When I get in water deeper than a bathtub, there’s this part of my brain that screams at me to get out, and no amount of self-talk ever silences it.

But maybe this time that part of my brain realized, as a cougar would, that there was a difference between swimming for pleasure and swimming for survival. While I was cold and uncomfortable, I stayed relatively calm. Even managed something close to an actual br**ststroke, which I’m sure made Nicole happy, stuck at my snail’s pace as the others pulled away.

Every now and then I could make out Daniel’s dark shape as he glanced back to check on us. No one said a word. Only the splash of hands and feet hitting water broke the eerie silence. I couldn’t see how much farther we had to go. Couldn’t see how far we’d come. Just fog everywhere, my friends dark blotches in the gray.

Sam was huffing off to the side. She liked to scrap, but she wasn’t an athlete, and she sounded winded. I was about to veer her way when she stopped puffing, as if she’d gotten her second wind. Or stopped swimming. I opened my mouth to call to Daniel tocheck on her.

Before I could speak, my foot brushed something. A fish I presumed, but then it wrapped around my ankle and yanked me down.

I didn’t fight at first. Something had my foot. Something was pulling me under. Just like a year ago, when Serena drowned. For a second, I thought, That’s it—I’m having a nightmare. Everything that had happened today—the fire, the crash, Rafe—was clearly just part of a bad dream. It had to be.

Then I began to choke and the survival instinct took over. I kicked. I flailed. But something kept dragging me under.

No, not something—someone.

When Serena drowned, I’d been so worried about her that I’d paid no attention to what had me. This time, I could feel warm fingers wrapped around my icy-cold ankle, and when I kicked, my toes brushed what was unmistakably hair.

I tried to grab whoever was holding me, but every time I moved, my attacker moved. I couldn’t see anything. My eyes stung and my lungs ached. But I knew it was a person holding me down. Just a person. I could fight that.

Only I couldn’t. I kicked and I writhed, but those fingers weren’t letting me go and I couldn’t breathe, and when nails dug into my ankle, I shrieked and my mouth and throat filled with more water, and I realized I was drowning.

Then the toes of my free foot touched rock. The bottom. I pushed myself down even as my brain screamed that I was going the wrong way. I bent in half and reached to feel not fingers, but vegetation wrapped around my ankle. Seaweed. I ripped it off, then shot toward the surface.

After a few strokes, I wasn’t sure I was still going up. All I could see was darkness. Then a scream sounded above me.

They were looking for me, yelling for me. I was going the right way. I was going to be fine, just fine. I put everything I had left into a few last strokes, propelling myself toward the surface, breaking through, then gasping for air too soon, water rushing in, choking me.

I went under again. I gave a tremendous kick, arms and legs flailing so hard that a cramp shot through my stomach and I screamed, swallowing more water.

I could hear Daniel shouting, then Corey. But no one was coming. Why wasn’t anyone coming?

I broke the surface again, and this time managed to get a breath. Then I heard Nicole screaming for help—that something had her, was pulling her down.

A fresh cramp shot through me and I went under again.

My muscles pleaded for relief, but I managed to break the surface again.

“Maya!” Daniel yelled. “Where’s Maya?”

Nicole shrieked and I wanted to shout to Daniel to forget me, save her before she drowned like Serena. That’s all I could think of. How he’d saved me when Serena drowned. I wouldn’t let that happen again. I couldn’t.

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