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Chapter One

The Graves’ family bungalow sat cozily on a sleepy little street in Sandy Point, California, a sun-drenched town about fifteen miles outside of Los Angeles. With the white-sanded beach just steps away, Jasmine always left the bungalow’s windows open, so that, no matter where she was inside, she would be able to hear the Pacific brushing against the sand, and breathe in the sweet ocean air.

Jasmine was tall and slender, with long wavy hair and an easy smile. A natural born swimmer, she liked to boast that, on any given day, she could sprint from her front door, cross the sand, and dive into the crisp water in forty seconds flat.

But the ocean was the furthest thing from her mind on this particular August morning, as she quickly wrestled her two small sons into their park clothes. She had an important meeting at the playground, a meeting she wanted to keep secret from her husband, Dusty.

Kneeling down in front of five-year-old Andy, she tugged his favorite yellow jersey over his dark curls. He scowled at her in a way that reminded her of Dusty, which brought on a crushing wave of guilt. Absently brushing her own honey-blond hair away from her eyes, wondered if she was doing the right thing.

(you have to do this for the boys, always think of the boys)

Once Andy was dressed, she went in search of her younger boy, Dylan. He quickly   turned up in the living room, happily standing over the child-sized arts and crafts table. Jasmine had spent her entire morning turning a plain wooden hobby box into a glitter and glue decorated Graves Family Memory Capsule in honor of Dylan’s rapidly approaching third birthday. The boys had “helped,” of course. She had collected old photos, some from before the boys were even born, and a few of hers and Dusty’s old training supplies that the boys might want when they grew older. Standing over it now, Dylan’s face was creased in concentration as his tiny forefinger softly pressed against the gold coated letters that made up his name.

“Come here,” she said, holding her hand out to Dylan. He looked at her wistfully for a moment, reluctant to separate from the treasured box, but then finally gave in and waddled to her.

Gathering him in her arms, she looked into his shining gray eyes, eyes that were the same unusual shade as her own. Like mountain water rushing over sparkling stones. She brushed his blond hair back from his face and he laughed, his face brightening from the pure pleasure of her touch.

Ten minutes later, after strapping the boys into their car seats, she took off, speeding down the quiet street. She drove faster than she normally dared, hating to draw such unnecessary attention to her family. It was hard enough to pretend to be normal when Andy and Dylan were still too young to understand the concept of secrecy. However, she was running late, and if she missed this appointment, or if she got home after Dusty and he started asking questions ...

(the neighbors would be the least of my problems)

She pressed the brake pedal, steered onto the dirt road entrance to the park, and headed straight for the small parking area on the right. It had been Dr. Cadmon’s idea to meet at the playground. He said the boys could play on their own while the two of them had a chance to talk. If there was one thing Jasmine didn’t need, it was the boys listening to their conversation.

They were like little tape recorders. She would swear they weren’t paying attention and then they would repeat everything she or Dusty had said, and always at the worst possible moment. Like when Andy happily told their elderly neighbor, Mrs. Servio, “Daddy says your house smells like rotten spinach.” Mrs. Servio laughed, of course, but Jasmine couldn’t help noticing she stopped bringing them homemade pies.

Cutting the engine, Jasmine sat silently and wondered for the last time if she was making a huge mistake. As if sensing her reluctance, the silver charm on her necklace began to vibrate heavily against the hollow of her throat. She pressed her finger to it, stilling the vibrations. The  medallion was tarnished, neglected looking, and bore a symbol:

“I’m know, I’m late,” Jasmine said. “But I just parked.”

A man’s voice immediately replied. “No worries, Jazz,” his thick Irish brogue rolling the words out like a sweet, melodic tune. “I’m sitting here on a bench across from the sandbox.”

There was no backing out now. Taking a deep breath, she glanced into the rearview mirror at her boys. Dylan was happily staring out his window at the rich, green trees, his chubby finger pointing at something only he could see. Andy, on the other hand, struggled against the restrains of his car seat strap.

“Lemme out,” he whined, squirming even more now that the car was parked.

“Mommy’s coming,” she said, slipping her necklace back under her tee-shirt. She stepped out onto the gravel road.

It was a small playground, oval like an egg and full of shrieking, red-cheeked kids impatiently waiting for their turn on the equipment. The concrete benches lined the perimeter so that mothers could watch as their children climbed monkey bars, dug holes in the sand box and chased each other across the lush lawn.

As Jasmine lifted the gate latch and slipped through, she could see Dr. Cadmon quietly waiting. His face was brightly lit by the midday sun, and Jasmine was shocked to see how much older he looked than the last time she saw him. As if more than five years had passed. There were new creases on his rugged face, and his dark, cropped hair was graying. Still, the rush of love she felt for him was sudden. Five years is a long time to be away from a man you once considered a second father.

Andy snatched his hand free from hers the instant they were inside the gate, and ran toward the slide. Before Dylan could follow, Jasmine leaned down and fixed his sparkling necklace, slipping the symbol back under his shirt.

“Go ahead sweetie,” she said. “Mommy’s gonna be just over there on the bench, OK?”

He nodded, wide eyes staring hungrily at the occupied swings. There was a long line of frowning kids already waiting.

“Don’t send messages, Sweetie,” she whispered. “Remember what Mommy said about sending the messages.”

When Jasmine approached Dr. Cadmon, his face broke into a broad, charming smile.

“Could it really be you?” he said. “It’s been ages since I’ve seen that pretty face of yours.”

Jasmine dropped onto the cement bench beside him, waving at Dylan as he climbed the ladder to the slide. Andy reached up and yanked him back to the ground, jumping ahead of him as next in line. Dylan scowled and stared intensely at the back of his brother’s head. A moment later, Andy shrieked, his hands pressed against his tiny ears, “Cut it out.”

Jasmine leaned forward and called out sharply, “Dylan. No messages.”

He looked over at her with a guilty expression, and dropped his gaze to the ground.

“Have they been blending well with the other kids?” Dr. Cadmon asked, an amused glimmer in his eye.

“Sometimes they slip a little,” she admitted. “I try to explain to them why they have to be careful, but they just don’t understand. Dylan’s turning three tomorrow. How do you reason with a three-year-old?”

“It’s hard for them to keep such a big secret,” he said. “I’d have to admit, even I get careless sometimes.”

“I just get scared for the normal kids. Especially with Dylan. His little messages scare them.”

“I’m sure they scare the adults too,” Dr. Cadmon said. “Have you thought about bringing them home? You know there’s always a place for you and your family.”

“Are you trying to recruit my boys?” She smiled softly.

“I’ve actually done a bit of recruiting today,” he said good-naturedly. “Met the strangest family. I could barely see into their minds, they were just... really careful around me. Guarded. Five-year-old twin girls, a three-year-old boy and a baby with a blue bow taped to his head.”

“You’re saying a baby was able to block you from his mind?” she snickered.

“Don’t mock an old man,” he grinned. “They all had crazy orange-yellow hair. As if the sun exploded and just... I don’t know, dropped flames on them.” His eyes glazed a bit, lost in the memory. “I just kept staring at their little pale faces, at these huge dark eyes. Like a painting. Maybe Van Gogh or that other one, the one with the ballet dancers.” He shook his head. “If I hadn’t seen ‘em myself, I’d never have believed it possible.”  

“And the parents?”

“Trained in Europe. Germany I think. They’re not sure they trust our American villages,” he said. “I should have told her we beat the kids, or send them to bed without supper. I have a feeling she would have approved.”

“You never get offended, do you?”

“Offended about what? That she didn’t like the sound of our nice, peaceful village? It’s not about me.” He sat thoughtfully for a moment. “I do hope they change their minds, though. Something about those kids was dead interesting. I’d love to watch them grow up.”

She arched an eyebrow. “You mean keep an eye on them?”

“Yes, well, that too.” He turned to Jasmine then, his face serious. “What’s this I’m hearing about that husband of yours? Him and his friend, Richard Kuledare.”

She could feel her face flush. “What have you heard?”

“Don’t be coy, Jaz, I’ve known you since you wore diapers.” His expression darkened. “You called me for the same reason I was glad to hear from you. Because the rumors I’m hearing are right, and you’re scared.”

“He’s my husband.” She shook her head slowly. “You can’t expect me to betray him.”

“So why drag me out here?”

“I was looking through these old pictures today, for a memory box the boys and I are making. For Dylan’s birthday tomorrow. Anyway, I found this.” She pulled a photograph out of her pocket and handed it to Dr. Cadmon. It was the two of them, both over five years younger. Her blond hair was shining from the sun, her peaceful face radiated happiness, and he just looked proud.

“This was before my nose got broken.” He touched the wide bridge self-consciously. “I used to be a handsome bloke. Was this the day you won the senior class sword competition?”

“I didn’t exactly win. Bruce Tyler and I tied for first.” She laughed at the memory. “He still has our trophy. Tell him it’s my turn.”

“Come and tell him yourself.”

She glanced down at the floor sadly. “Dusty would never allow it.”

Dr. Cadmon flipped the photo over and saw writing on the back: “Me and my mentor, Dr. Emmet Cadmon, at the Village.”

She looked over his shoulder. “When I saw this, I realized you were the only one I could turn to.”

“Why me?”

“Because I’m losing him.” She felt a lump form in her throat. “Every day since Andy was born, Dusty has slipped away a little more and a little more. At first it was barely noticeable. A comment here or there about the way the world ‘should be.’ Maybe a sarcastic remark about our boys having to ‘pretend to be ordinary,’ while the normal kids were free to show off their natural skills.”

“It’s the same old stuff from way back when,” he said. “That club the two of them started in high school. You had to know what you were getting when you decided to marry him.”

“I was in that club too, remember? Their ideas weren’t all bad.”

Dr. Cadmon kept his mouth shut, but his expression betrayed the thoughts he couldn’t bring himself to say.  

“Everything’s just changed,” Jasmine continued. “Dusty used to control his emotions. He used to come back from his dark place and smile and be happy again, but now...” She shook her head. “It’s like Richard and I have been playing tug-of-war over him since the day he proposed. At first I flattered myself that Rich was jealous, but now I know he was jealous of me. He’s always wanted Dusty’s complete devotion and unwavering loyalty.”

“And he’s finally getting it?”

“No. Dusty’s grown too big for that now. Too many people look up to him. Their followers keep growing and, as much as I hate to say it, it’s mostly because people love my husband.”

Dr. Cadmon nodded gravely. “He was always too charming for his own good. I was surprised that he and Richard were friends instead of competing all the time. They were two strong personalities growing up in such a small space. But they stayed tight. Peas in the pod.”

“I think Rich knew he’d lose a direct competition,” she said. “Didn’t Sun Tzu say to keep your enemies closest?”

Her eyes suddenly glistened with frustrated tears. She had to tell Dr. Cadmon the truth. The whole reason she had come was for his advice and maybe even his protection.

Drawing a deep breath, she said, “Dusty wants to take the boys someplace. A new school that he and Richard are starting, where they can teach kids a better way than our traditions. He’s positively manic about it.”

“So the rumors are true.”

“Dusty was never a fan of the altruistic way of our people. I’m afraid it just keeps getting worse.”

“And how can I help?”

“Tell me how to keep my boys away from Richard.”

“That’s easy, Jasmine,” he said, “Come home to the Village. You’ll be safe there. I can protect you all.”

She smiled bitterly. “The Village can’t protect us. It’s wide open. Anyone could just stroll up over the hill. You were always just too damn trusting to believe in proper security. Or too damn arrogant.” She said it kindly.

He squeezed his hand over hers, his voice thick with worry. “Come home, Jasmine. Come back with me right now.” His anxious gaze drifted towards the boys, happily bouncing on the seesaw. Andy’s weight shifted him down while Dylan’s feet danced high in the air.

She pulled her hand away from his grip, and crossed her arms tightly across her chest. “Take them away from their father? Seems so cold and heartless.”

“We have to make tough decisions in life,” Dr. Cadmon said, his sunburned brow knit. “Sometime cold-hearted ones, for the sake of what’s right.”

She shook her head decisively but said nothing.

“I guess I’m oh-for-two today.” He was trying to make his voice light again, but it came out forced. “Everyone will think I’m losing my touch.”

“I’m not saying I don’t want to go...”

He silenced her apologies with a wave of his hand. “It’s not about me, remember? I just hope you know what you’re doing. For the boys’ sake, as well as your own.”

“I just need time to figure things out.” She struggled for a moment, not sure what else she could say. Deep down, she knew he was right, but she also knew she loved Dusty too much to deliberately hurt him. They fell into an uneasy silence, and watched the boys play.

When the time came for her to say good-bye, she had a feeling that she might never see him again. It was with sadness that she buckled the boys in their car seat, waved one final good-bye, and drove back toward town.

She headed straight to the grocery store. While they were there, Andy managed to point and say “Uh-oh” almost three full minutes before a man dropped a jar he had been cradling in his overflowing arms. The glass shattered and tomato sauce sprayed all over his khaki pants and the floor of aisle three.

“Dang it.” The man’s face crumbled with humiliation. “I guess I should have grabbed a basket.”

Jasmine smiled sympathetically, but what she felt inside was maternal pride. Three full minutes at only five years old. It was impressive by anyone’s standards. If he kept this up, he was certain to develop into quite a Seer. Probably surpass even Dusty’s skills by the time he’d made it to high school.

Dylan sat in the grocery cart with a piece of banana in his hand. His powers were also progressing at an amazing rate. He had even inherited her water-power, a delightful surprise that they discovered on his second birthday.

Hand-in-hand, they swam away from the crowded shoreline, their bellies brushing along the sandy floor. When she let him go, his strokes were short and rough, but as natural as her own. Slowly, they toured the ocean depths, his excited eyes widening at the sight of every brightly colored fish that swam past, and every tiny sea-creature that hid beneath the large rocks below him. Two hours later, as she dragged him back to shore, she wondered what other powers lay dormant in him. The potential was mind-blowing.

At six-twenty five, she pulled into the driveway, only five minutes before Dusty was due from work. Immediately, she tossed dinner into the microwave, got the boys cleaned up, and set the table. Standing tippy-toed on a wobbly chair, she began to hang the decorations for Dylan’s party the next day. She hurried, hoping a fully decorated house might give Dusty the illusion that she had been home all afternoon. Not that it would be a big deal if he knew they’d been to the park, but still, the less questions he asked, the better.

However, six-thirty came and went with no sign of him. By seven, the boys were fed, and the three of them were sitting around as Jasmine re-organized the contents inside the memory box.

She placed her favorite wakizashi, the shorter sword of the Samurai, down at the bottom for safety sake. It had a red and black wooden sheath with a white shark skin handle and a very sharp twelve-inch blade. She recalled having used it in her first sword competition when she was only eleven-years-old. On top of that, she placed her favorite training materials from her own school days, and a few of Dusty’s, that the boys wouldn’t need until they were much older. She covered it all with a stack of photographs, old letters, and other keepsakes, placing the photo of herself and Dr. Cadmon right on top. Then she closed the box, and secured the tiny, ornate lock with a golden key to keep it closed until they unearthed it again in a few year’s time.

Shortly after nine, it began to rain. At first, the drops were large and plump and fell calmly through the open windows. Jasmine moved around the house, pulling each one closed. Before she could reach them all, the soft shower had turned into a full on storm. Large puddles formed on the hardwood floors, and she had to grab fresh towels from the linen closet to sop up the water.

(it never rains in Southern California well what do you call this)

Lightning flashed angrily in the dark lonely sky, and the thunder crashed over the open beach, producing a haunted sounding echo. The storm continued to grow in strength and ferocity even in the short time it took her to get the boys tucked into bed.

“Where’s daddy?” Andy whined. His face was scrunched with despair. “I want a daddy story.”

“Daddy had to work late tonight,” she said, and pulled the crisp sheets up to his chin. “Do you want a mommy story?”

He shoved the sheets off his small body and rolled away. Stubborn. Just like his father. Everything with him was just like his father.

(why does that scare me so)

She went across the hall to Dylan’s bedroom and leaned in through the open doorway. The room was dark and he was already asleep, a small smile on his face. He was her mirror. He even swam with her in the ocean. The kid was fearless.

She pulled the door mostly closed and headed toward the living room, her anger toward Dusty growing in her core. Three hours late coming home and not so much as a phone call to put her mind at ease. This was becoming a regular occurrence and she wasn’t sure how much more of it she would take. She seriously considered packing the boys and driving straight to the Village. Could actually picture herself tossing their clothes and their toys into the car and taking off. They could make it to the lodge in nine hours if traffic was kind.

The thunder growled, closer than ever, and she knew she would never make the long trip alone with two boys in the rain. If anything, she would have to wait until morning, and by then she would probably change her mind.

(“we have to make tough decisions in life sometime cold-hearted ones, for the sake of what’s right.”)

She lay on the couch, stared at the wall and allowed a few quiet tears to spill down her cheeks.

“Mommy?”

The voice was so low, she was scarcely sure she heard it. She sat up and saw Andy standing in the open doorway. His hair was sticking up in the back from his pillow and his face was shadowed with fear.

“Honey, did you have a bad dream?”

“Daddy’s gone.” He said it so simply, so matter-of-factly. In the window behind him, a bolt of lightning lit up the sky.

“Daddy’s just late Andy, he’ll be home soon.” She held her arms open, inviting him to come closer. “Do you want to stay out here and wait with Mommy?”

“Daddy’s gone,” he said with a small sigh. “Bad man’s coming.”

“What?” A chill ran up the back of Jasmine’s neck.

“Grizzly Man.” He turned and looked toward the door expectantly, distractedly tugging at his pajama bottoms.

Jasmine slipped off the couch and sat cross-legged on the wood floor in front of her son. She concentrated with all her might. Slowly, she mentally peered into his mind until she began to visualize his thoughts.

It was as if she were standing at the end of a long, brightly lit hallway. The ceilings were high, with long fluorescent lighting tracks running down toward the stairwell. The glare bounced off the dirt-streaked white tiled walls and settled down toward the gray, shoe-scuffed floor. At the far end of the hallway, a large figure laid, eerily still, halfway across a threshold. He was facing up, glazed eyes staring at the ceiling. It was Dusty. Her heart began to race as she tried to move toward him, desperate to reach his sideā€¦

“Ow! Mommy, stop it!” Andy rubbed his tiny hands against his head, trying to ward off her intrusion. People had always complained about the sensation she inflicted when she mind-read. She never learned how to do it like Dr. Cadmon could, without tickling her victim.

“Sweetie, was it a dream?”

He shook his head, and tugged at the seat of his pajamas. “Bad man. Grizzly Man.”

She had no idea what this meant.

(dusty could be dying somewhere right now, right this very second)

She felt sick inside. Helpless. Not five minutes earlier she’d been contemplating leaving him, and now she couldn’t imagine her life without him. She’d loved him since they were ten years old. If he was actually dead...

“Grizzly Man.” Andy said, breaking her daze. He pointed at the front door.

(three minutes only three minutes and we’ll know for sure what this grizzly man is and do you want to be here if he really shows up)

The lightning flashed again. It was the jolt she needed to get moving.

She leapt to her feet, snatched Andy into her arms and raced toward Dylan’s room.

They slipped out through the back window and into the downpour. Her bare feet slipped clumsily against the sopping clay tiles along the back porch and she ducked her head under the low hanging plants. Her arms were already tired from the weight of both boys, but she clutched them close to her.

“More sleep, mommy,” Dylan said in a tired voice. His arms clung to her, his small body trembling as cold raindrops saturated his thin pajamas.

Instinctively, she sprinted toward the ocean. Cold sand yielded ungracefully beneath her feet, and the harsh wind chilled her wet skin. Andy realized her intention even before she did and he began to scream in protest, squirming violently to escape her grip. He finally pushed himself free and dropped onto the sand like a lump.

“No ocean, no ocean.” His voice was near hysterics.

“It’s okay.” Roaring wind whistled against their ears and she had to scream to be heard. Her body shivered uncontrollably. Dylan’s grip around her tightened as he looked toward the raging water.

Andy pushed at her legs with his tiny fists. “No ocean.”

“I’ll hold onto you,” she tried to reassure the terrified five-year-old. “The bad man can’t get us out there.”

“No!” His face was distorted with terror.

She wondered what consequences he was seeing in his mind, what would happen if she took him far out into the violent blackness of the ocean. She took a step toward him, but he turned away from her and ran back towards the house.

“Andy, no!” she cried, starting after him. “Andy, you come back here this instant.”

Not even pausing to look back at her, he continued to race toward the shadowy front porch of their home.

Stopping dead in her tracks, she desperately wondered what to do next. As Andy disappeared into the darkness of the night, Jasmine looked down at Dylan who was still locked in her embrace. She couldn’t go chasing after Andy with Dylan in her arms, couldn’t risk both of their lives. With shaking arms, she lowered Dylan to the ground until he stood at her side.

The storm was directly over them now and the rain seemed to be both pelting them from above and attacking them from the sides. She knelt down until her face was at his level. Looking deep into his cool gray eyes, she reached out and pushed his blond hair back off his face. Leaning in, she kissed his face lovingly.

“Run to the water and swim far out and don’t come back until mommy gets you, OK?”  

He looked at her, his brow knit in confusion. Turning toward the choppy ocean, he pointed a chubby finger and said, “Go swimming?”

“Yes, Sweetie.” She tried to smile, but her lips kept quivering. Tears spilled down her cheek. “Go swimming.”

Sparing one last uncertain glance over his shoulder, he started off toward the water’s break. She watched him as a few seconds later, he disappeared in the ocean’s furious swell.

“Mommy will be right behind you,” she whispered. Even as she said it, she wondered if it were true.

With no time to lose, she raced back to the house to find Andy. When she was halfway there, she saw that she was too late.

He was already there, kneeling in the doorway beside Andy, his massive frame silhouetted in the living room lights behind him. Even knelt that way, Jasmine could tell he was tall and powerfully built. As she approached, he shifted his penetrating gaze to her face, and rose in one smooth, surprisingly graceful motion. The reality of him was overwhelming, and she began to tremble uncontrollably.

Jasmine held her hand out to Andy, who remained at his side, sitting cross-legged on the wet porch. “Come here Andy,” she said, her eyes never leaving the awful man’s face. She hated the way her voice quivered. “Come to Mommy right now.”

Andy looked at her, but still did not move from his spot. He seemed serene, as if all options were exhausted and destiny was already waiting.

The fear within her was almost paralyzing, but she knew she had to fight it. She had to move close to him in order to reach her son. As if knowing this, the man simply waited, unhurried. His gaze upon her was ominous.

She crept up the porch steps to Andy and knelt down to cradle him in her arms.

“Is it gonna be OK?” she whispered into his tiny ear. “Is he going to hurt us?”

The Grizzly Man moved forward.

  ##  

The storm continued to rage throughout the night, and didn’t taper off until just before the dawn. Rookie cop Joseph Servio returned home to his grandmother’s house as the final drops were falling. By the time the sun appeared on the horizon, he was already zipping up his wetsuit and racing across the sand.

A month earlier, he had graduated from the police academy. The graveyard shifts were his graduation present, and he worked them four nights a week on the streets of downtown Los Angeles. The hours were killing him, but the money was pretty good. Good enough, in fact, that he was thinking about getting his own apartment. As awesome as Sandy Point was, he couldn’t go on living with his grandmother forever.

But he loved the pristine beach. A born surfer, he had found it difficult to concentrate on his job during the freak thunderstorm. All throughout his shift, he kept imagining how aggressive the ocean would be when he got home. There was nothing more distracting than the promise of some solid waves.

Clutching the board, he ran toward the break. As soon as his bare toes hit the icy foam, he dove onto his belly and paddled out over the rough water, his eyes squinted against the salty spray.

When he paddled out as far as he wanted to go, he sat on the board and allowed it to drift softly on the current. This was his favorite part of the process, the absolute peace that surrounded him while he waited for the perfect wave to form. The sun continued its rise in the clear morning sky, casting its bright light onto the water and allowing Servio to peer into its depths. He was wondering how deep the ocean was in this spot, when he saw something swim by below the surface.

He stared hard at the water, trying to work out what he was seeing. It was long, a little over three feet, and about a foot wide. His first guess would have been a baby shark, but it was way too colorful: bright yellow from its head to its center and then dark the rest of the way to its end. As it swam up, closer to the surface, Servio could make out the short fan of blond hair gently floating around the face, and the tiny arms reaching forward to form jerky strokes. He almost fell of his surfboard.

It looked like a small boy.

Servio leaned forward and stared, certain he had imagined it - just a trick of the morning sun - but then he saw it again as clear as day. It was a boy. A young boy, swimming below, too far for Servio to reach from the safety of his board. Without thinking, he rolled over the edge and slid into the water.

Silence enveloped him as his ears filled with the ocean, and he reached his hands out blindly, swimming deeper with each stroke. His eyes stung and he felt the dangerous current begin to control his movements. There was a burning sensation in his lungs as his hastily drawn last breath began to run out. Turning back toward the surface, he kicked his feet hard to propel himself upward. But the tide was against him, was doing its best to push him further down into its depths. He felt a tremendous pressure building inside his chest, and red spots formed over his vision. Using the last of his strength, he managed to propel himself closer toward the sun lit surface. When his face broke through, he gasped at the fresh air and tried to focus his eyes.

He looked back into the water, but the boy was gone.

Paddling around in the general area, his eyes strained as he stared over and into the water. As precious seconds ticked by, he silently prayed that the boy would magically appear and would somehow still be OK. His frustration kept building until he finally had to face the facts. Too much time had passed. The boy was gone. His helplessness quickly turned into anger and he slammed his fists against the surface of the killer ocean.

(i should have gotten to him somehow i should have managed to save him)

The magical allure of the water was gone, and he solemnly swam back to shore.

When he made it onto the sand, he found his board washed onto the frothy shore. He grabbed it, moved further up onto the cool, rain-washed sand, and sat, quietly staring out. The beach was deserted, there were no signs of worried adults or frantically searching family members. Whoever the boy had been, he seemed to have been on his own.

(how could a little kid get to the ocean all by himself)

Servio looked back toward the small colorful houses that bordered the white sand. He could see his own brightly-painted bungalow and suddenly imagined his grandmother still safely asleep in her bed. She had no idea how close he, himself, had just come to drowning. He wondered if there might also be some poor sleeping family in one of those houses, blissfully unaware that their young child had just been gobbled-up by the Pacific. He imagined himself knocking on their door, looking into their confused faces and giving them the worst news of their lives. It was a difficult part of the job, one he had been warned about in the academy. A “next-of-kin notification.” For the very first time in his life, he felt his heart break.

The waves continued to wash against the sand. As Servio’s tear-filled eyes watched the water rush in and out, he noticed something bright moving toward the shore. He barely had time to comprehend what he was seeing, when a small figure popped-up, like magic, from the breaking waves. A young boy, no older than two or three, happily waddled out of the water. Pausing just long enough to look around, the boy quickly toddled across the sand and up toward the street.

(wait what just happened here)

Servio stared in disbelief at the place the boy had appeared. He had almost managed to convince himself that he had imagined it, when he turned and saw the boy again, quickly moving toward the edge of the sand. Jumping to his feet, Servio raced after him.

As he neared the edge of the beach, Servio was shocked to find the boy so close to his own grandmother’s house. For a moment, Servio wondered if the kid was actually heading there

(how can this be possible)

when, instead, the kid made a left and waddled up the neighboring front porch. The front door was already standing wide-open. Servio followed up the small steps and leaned against the wooden frame.

Colorful party decorations hung festively around the walls. A hand-painted sign read: “Happy Birthday Dylan.” Servio vainly wiped his feet on the doormat, suddenly very aware of his dripping, sand-covered wetsuit.

“Hello?” he called. There was nothing but silence. He moved forward into the living room and saw the boy standing over a small plastic table that was covered with art supplies. As he got closer to the table, the boy looked up at him and smiled, quietly fingering a colorful box that had something written all over it in glittering letters.

“The Graves Family.”

There were names, too, around the sides, and Servio pointed to them.

“Which one is you?” he asked.

The boy stared at him a moment, an amused look on his tiny face, then turned his attention back to the box. “Mine.”

Servio nodded uncomfortably, having no idea how to talk to little kids.

“Is anyone here?” Servio called, his voice booming in the silent house. “I’m your neighbor, Gwyneth Servio’s grandson. I found your boy.”

He listened hopefully into the stillness and wondered where they could be. Maybe they had discovered the boy missing and rushed out to search for him.

Staring at the boy, he wondered again how the kid had possibly stayed underwater for so long.

(i must be going crazy the kid must have broke surface behind me and i just didn’t see him)

It made sense, but at the same time he didn’t think it was probable. He hadn’t just casually glanced about, he had deliberately stared over the ocean water for any sign of the kid. If the boy had come up for air, how had Servio missed him?

(he had simply floated further away from you than you’d realized and you missed his small head in the bright sunlight there is no other possibility the kid can’t breathe under water)

Servio pulled one of the plastic chairs back from the table and sat down. As tired as he was, he couldn’t just leave the kid alone in this empty house. Besides, he was sure the family would be back at any moment.


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