The Calling Page 9

Nails scraped my arm and I panicked, then felt wet fur.

Kenjii. I wrapped my arms around her neck and lay my face against her back, flutter-kicking as best I could. Daniel reached me then.

“Nicole,” I said. “Get Nicole.”

He hesitated. I pushed him toward Nicole, getting more and more frantic until Corey called that he and Hayley had Nicole and she was fine.

“Sam?” I croaked.

“Sam!” Daniel yelled. “Where are you?”

“She’s—” Corey started. “Here she is. She’s fine.”

Daniel made me get on his back and we headed to shore, Kenjii swimming beside us.


WHEN WE MADE IT to shore, Daniel didn’t insist on getting to dry ground this time, just let us all collapse where we could, panting and shivering, Nicole crying softly, Hayley trying to comfort her, Sam hovering awkwardly.

We emptied the makeshift pack. It’d been on Corey, and he’d gone under in the search. We’d tied it as best we could, but there were openings. The clothing was wet. His pills had disintegrated. He said that was fine—he wasn’t likely to get a migraine soon and if he did, he could tough it out. Which was a lie, but there was nothing we could do about it.

Daniel made the others put on their clothing, coaxing gently but insistently. Theirs were almost as soaked as Daniel’s and mine, and they huddled there, shivering and sniffling.

The sky was so dark now it looked like night already. It smelled like rain, too. None for weeks and now it came and there was a small part of me that thought, It’ll put out the fires, but I couldn’t bring myself to care. My forest might be saved, and all I could think was that night was coming and the temperature was dropping and if it did rain and we couldn’t find shelter, get dry, and try to light a fire, hypothermia would kill us by morning.

We’d all be dead. Just like Rafe.

I pulled my legs up, wrapped my arms around them and shivered as I tried to get myself under control. Just beyond this rocky beach was the forest. I’d seen it earlier. I knew the forest. It was my home more than any house ever could be. I’d survive this. We’d all survive it.

But no matter how hard I stared to the west, I couldn’t see the trees. Just fog and shadows everywhere, the six of us lost in it, as if we’d already died, stumbled into the afterlife and—

“What happened out there?” Corey asked.

I looked up. He was pivoting slowly, shoulders tight, on guard against… Against anything. Everything. Whatever could be lurking in that rolling field of gray.

“Something pulled me under,” Nicole said. “It wrapped around my foot and I couldn’t get away.”

“That’s what happened to you, too, Maya, isn’t it?” Corey said.

I nodded. “It pulledme to the bottom, then let go.”

Nicole and I compared stories. She didn’t have much to tell. Something grabbed her leg and pulled her down. Did it feel like a bite? Seaweed? She didn’t know.

Finally Daniel turned to me. “Was it like what happened with Serena?”

I nodded.

“Serena?” Hayley said. “How would she know that? No offense, Maya. I mean, I know you were there and it was awful but—”

“Something dragged Maya under that time, too,” Corey said. “Daniel pulled her to safety.”

Silence. I knew what they were all thinking. Daniel pulled Maya to safety. And Serena died.

“It was my fault,” I said. “He didn’t know Serena had gone under, too.”

“Maya tried to tell me,” Daniel said. “I didn’t understand. It was my fault.”

“It was no one’s fault,” Sam said. “Neither was this. Maybe there’s something out there. Giant eels or whatever.”

“Giant eels?” Corey let out a whoop of a laugh, too loud and too long. Desperate to cast off the fear and unease and find his old self again.

“Hey, I’m not the moron who was worried about great white sharks,” said Sam.

“Um, that was Nic.”

“It doesn’t matter what happened,” Daniel said, “only that no one was hurt.” He looked at me, then Nicole. “You’re both okay, right? Well, I mean… I know you’re not okay, but—”

“I’m fine,” I said.

Nicole nodded.

“Me, too.” Hayley straightened, as if not to be outdone. Getting her footing, like me searching for my forest and Corey for a joke. We were all stressed out. We’d deal with it our own way. At least we were dealing with it, not curled up on the beach in fetal positions. Right now, that was the best we could hope for.

It was night by the time we’d gotten ourselves together enough to head out. There were no lights anywhere to break the fog and the darkness. We walked along the shore for a bit, but couldn’t find any docks or boat moorings. So no cottages just across the water, as we’d hoped. We needed to head inland.

As we walked in silence, Kenjii whimpered, reacting to the tension. I could feel it myself, bristling through the air like electricity. Every time she made noise, the others would jump, and look around as if they expected grizzly bears to lumber out of the fog. Only Daniel stayed steady, assuring everyone that Kenjii was just nervous because they were.

I was, too. I think that’s what got her going the most. I kept telling myself I was fine, that the forest was right there. I could smell the sharp tang of evergreens. But when the wind whined around us, I jumped with everyone else.

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