Sam took in a deep breath of salty air. He had always loved the ocean, growing up by the beach had saw to that. As a kid, he had spent every afternoon in the sea or in the pool behind his house, skin pruny and muscles pleasantly sore. It had earned him a free ride in collage on the swim team.
The first few days of spring break had bored him, he didn’t like to drink like Jason and Ted, he didn’t like to go to clubs like Vanessa and Jay. The real reason he tagged along was Nicole. He had developed a crush on her back when they were both freshmen.
She was perfect. Straight A’s, cheerleader, student council president, and a beauty on top of that? It was no wonder she always ignored Sam and went for the elite like her.
She broke up with her boyfriend a week before the trip, Sam saw it as a sign and took Jason up on his offer.
“A week of fun in the sun, huh?” Sam mumbled to himself. Jason’s father’s yacht was huge, and a two-day cruse sounded awesome, but when the engine went out everyone decided to just keep floating aimlessly and call for help later.
At the end of day two Jason checked his phone, no signal. The same happened with everyone’s phone. And no wi-fi, no internet, even the emergency radio was suffering from unexplainable interference.
It was day three and Sam was exhausted. If the others were worried, it didn’t show. They had plenty of food, and more importantly, booze, so the others continued to party like nothing was wrong.
“Sammy! Come on, dawg.”
Sam turned and saw the muscular Ted standing behind him. He had decided to get away from the festivities and went to the bow of the ship to look at the sea. It had became dark, he figured it would start raining anytime.
Ted wore his basketball jersey like he always did. He had to wash the yellow shirt every night so he could rock it the next morning. “Come and get some of this shine. Jason’s old man has a shitload of the stuff below.”
“Don’t you think we should try to signal for help?” Sam asked as he pushed the offered bottle of moonshine away. “We’ve been drifting for a long time now. What happens if we go too far away and can’t reach anyone?”
“No worries, dawg.” Ted pointed to his left. “Florida is right over there.”
Sam sighed. The sun was at their back, if anything, Florida was to the right, behind him. “What if-”
“No, no, no.” Ted grinned and shook his head. “Cut it out. Head inside and do body shots with Nicole. She’s lonely.”
His face flushed crimson and he turned away. “Shut up. You know she doesn’t think about me like that.”
“And she won’t unless you do something about it.” Ted wrapped an arm around Sam’s neck and led him inside. “I’m rooting for you, bro.”
Ted released him and walked away with a smile, grabbing blond-haired Vanessa by the waist and swapped his bottle for a fresh one along the way. She giggled and took the bottle from him, sipped at it, and they skipped down to the bedrooms.
Sam sighed. Ted made it sound so easy. In his own way, he was looking out for Sam and he knew it. But Sam never knew what to say to her, they had so little in common.
“What’s wrong, Sammy?” a voice asked from behind.
He turned, Nicole was inches away. Her bright green eyes searched his face, surprisingly lucid considering everyone was completely shit-faced. She held a strawberry wine cooler and a slice of pizza. Her chocolate brown hair was pulled back in a ponytail. Her freckled face glowed, she was most certainly a few drinks deep.
“N-nothing. I was just trying to tell Jase that I think that we should probably try and signal for help sometime. I mean, you know, we’re drifting off. So we should get a hold of someone.” He glanced away, wishing he’d just shut up before he began rambling. He couldn’t talk to her, let alone try to sleep with the girl!
“I agree. We should.” She chewed a bite of pizza and turned, not checking to see if he was following.
He didn’t. Sam picked at his fingernails until she spun around and laughed. “Come on, Sammy. Get some of this pizza. It’ll all work out.”
Easy for her to say, he thought. Nicole was sheltered, she had never had a part-time job, never had to work in her life. She probably thought daddy would show up in a submarine to save them or something.
Sam said nothing, just walked over to the couch where she had just plopped onto and gently sat beside her. Two feet away. Like the touch of the girl would make his skin melt off.
She put her win cooler on the nearby coffee table to free a hand to pass him some pizza. “Eat up, Sammy. It’s got a ton of meat on it.” She smirked. “I love meat.”
A shiver went down his spine, and blood began pooling south of his belt as the girl talked about ‘loving meat’ in a teasing tone.
“Calm down, I’ll quit. I know how you are, Sammy. Do you think I haven’t noticed?” Both slices of pizza were dropped on the bare coffee table to free her hands. Nicole slid across the couch, pulling her knees up to crawl when Sam began edging to the far side. “The way you look at me?” She pinched the collar of his shirt and pulled him close. “The way you undress me with your eyes, fuck me with those eyes?”
Her lips were inches away when the boat shook, tossing the two across the back of the couch and onto the carpeted floor. The glass door shattered, spraying glass across the room.
Nicole squealed and pushed herself off of Sam. “What the hell was that?”
I rocked your world? He thought about saying something like that, but knew he couldn’t pull it off. He just wasn’t cool enough. That was something Ted could say.
“I dunno,” Sam said. He made it to his feet just in time for the boat to rock a second time. He stumbled and fell on his back, the glass sliced at his skin, his flimsy shirt did nothing to stop the shards.
Nicole leaned against the couch. “What the hell?” she screamed, like he hadn’t heard her the first time and she demanded an answer.
I don’t know, bitch! is what he though he’d say, but he didn’t. Regardless of what was happening, regardless of the pain tickling his back, Nicole had almost kissed him. He’d never call her a bitch.
“I’ll find out.” Sam rolled onto his stomach and pushed himself up, glass tearing at his palms and fingertips. He stumbled to the empty doorway, the violent rocking of the boat made moving difficult.
He spotted Jason and Ted at the kitchen door to his left, peaking out of the hole where it had been. “Ted, what’s happening?”
“Something hitting my fucking yacht, that’s what! A fucking whale or shark or something!” Jason yelled at no one in particular.
The boat dipped low and a wave of water slammed against the men. Sam rubbed the salt from his eyes and looked around. It had started storming really heavily, the sky was painted midnight about four hours too soon. An awning over the doorway kept his head dry from the storm, but he was already soaked by the sea-spray.
What looked like the back of a hedgehog skimmed the surface of the sea, its bright orange spikes stood out in the darkness. “Is that it?” Sam cried as he pointed at the open ocean.
“I’ll fucking kill it, the fucker,” Jason said, trying to match the rage of the storm with his own anger.
Sam said nothing, but wanted to tell Jason to stop saying fuck so much, but he didn’t have time. The spikes were coming straight for the boat at an alarming pace. Whatever it was, it was a swimmer. A whale or shark like Jason had guessed.
The monstrous lizard jumped from the water and hugged the rail of the boat, hissing like a cobra until the urge to roar took over. Rows of small, crooked presented themselves to the pair, a trio of forked tongues danced in the air.
“What the fuc-” was all Jason had time to say before the creature reached out with a stringy arm and grabbed him and a dumbstruck Ted, striking quick like a snake.
“Ted!” Sam cried as the monster dropped back into the chilly water.
“W-w-w-wha...” Nicole trailed off as she backpedaled, fear twisting her rosy face up into an unpretty mess.
I’ll protect you, Nicole, is what Sam wanted to say, but the man who could say cool stuff like that was gone.
“Let’s get inside,” Sam said. He wobbled towards Nicole, but a yellowed haired girl bumped into him and tossed him to the ground.
Ted!” Glass crunched as Vanessa ran onto the deck. She leaned out over the rail as she screamed his name. “Ted? No, oh, God, no.”
The ship lurched, but in a lateral direction instead of the back-and-forth of it rocking. The floor between the kitchen and living area broke as water sprayed up, becoming a slow bubble as the boat filled.
“It broke the boat!” Sam yelled.
“Ted!” Vansessa cried impotently. “Teeeed!!! Ted’ll-”
Sam never found out what Ted would do because the strange water-dragon leaped through the air like a dolphin with its arm out. It plucked her from the boat and fell back in the water in a heartbeat.
“Oh God, oh God, oh God,” Nicole was sobbing, crouched on the wet carpet.
The floor shifted, a ramp leading to the deadly water at their backs. Nicole tumbled head over ass towards the open wall. Without a glass door to block her, she rolled out on to the deck.
Sam scrambled after her, reached out, their fingertips brushed as the icy water enveloped them. He was pulled away, swirling in the dark water, the boat dragging everything deeper.
Vanessa, Ted, Jason, they were gone. He didn’t know about Jay or Gina. They were probably below, probably already drowned.
He bobbed in the water, waiting for the monster to swim up and grab him like a bolt of lightning. It was an alright way to die, he liked the sea, loved it. He had spent every day at the sea as a kid, it was how he got to college.
Why not, he thought. Swimming is all I’ve ever been good at, why not swim a little before I die. No heroic thoughts like, I’ll find Nicole and save her, Sam was too practical. What were the chances he could find her, the odds that they’d survive?
He fought and clawed his way to the surface right as his lungs were about to give up. He broke the surface and inhaled the sweet substance that everyone takes for granted until they need it.
Swimming seemed like a good idea, and he didn’t see Nicole around, begging to be saved, so he decided to head off randomly. The sun was at his back, he didn’t want it to blind him as he enjoyed his last lap in the ocean.
Why hasn’t it found me yet? Sam couldn’t figure it out. It was getting annoying, and he had finally remembered the pain in his back. The salty water wasn’t helping his cuts, they were stinging his palm with every stroke.
He focused on the pain, it was the best distraction he had. Swimming had lost some of its appeal, and death wasn’t coming.
When he scratched the sand with his toe it was the biggest shock of his young life. A beach! A beach? He couldn’t figure it out. Florida was the other way, and it’s not like they were close enough that he could swim there anyway. What could they have hit? What was in this part of the Caribbean?
Cuba, it hit him. The ghost nation. After becoming a major powerhouse when communism was running rampant in Europe, Cuba declared itself off limits, they took a policy of isolation and turned away from the world. It was theorized that it was this that lead to world peace, or as close to peace as the world could come. Without the scientific weaponry and economic windfall of Cuba the Union of Capitalist Nations faltered. France was the last member to join, after that, their momentum faltered. After years of a second cold war, the Organization of American States and the Union of Capitalist Nations signed a treaty in 1997.
No one went to Cuba. It was strictly forbidden. When they cut themselves off, a delegate slipped into each capital, a sleeper agent in each country of the world. They delivered a letter to the leader of each country with a simple statement, ‘Stay away and we don’t destroy you. Leave us in peace.’ Then each delegate boarded a waiting plane and flew back to Cube.
Sam knew the whole story, it had haunted him since he was a child. He clutched at the sand beneath his fingers, the pain in his palms forgotten. For years he secretly dreamed of coming to the place, and there he was, on the banks. It had to be Cuba, there was nowhere else!
Sam knew the whole story because his father was the agent assigned to the United States. One day when Sam was just an infant he left for Washington D.C. to deliver the letter to the president, and he never came back.
Sam knew the whole story because he hated the man. Why didn’t he take Sam and his mother with him? Why start a family just to walk away from them? Sleeper agent, they told him. He was sent to the U.S. to do just that. To betray them all.
Sam grinned, somehow, he wanted to find the man. To get answers from him. Regardless of the story Sam knew, that no one went to Cuba, that those who snuck onto the coast were either never seen again or were sent back dead, he would find him.
Sam grinned as he stood. This was why he survived, why he kept drawing breath. If some dragon-shark-hedgehog was going to eat him, it would just have to climb up on shore and chase him.
Sam grinned as he walked towards the dark forest. It was his only option, really. Aside from the insane, suicidal thoughts thumping through his mind, it was the only thing he could do.
Set off to find someone.
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