Ted poured the hot chocolate into cups and stirred in hot water. Jerry sipped slowly, contemplating his drink as though he could find answers in the misty shades of brown that swirled there.
“I’ve heard that stress can cause sleepwalking,” Ted suggested finally. “How are things going? Really?”
“Honestly, I don’t know. I think I’m going to flunk out of college. I should be studying western civilization and not diving rules.”
“And it’s stressing you out?”
“Damn it, Ted, don’t psychoanalyze me, you haven’t the training.” He sipped his drink.” I don’t know if I belong in college. I don’t know how I got on the roof. I just don’t know.”
“I’ve been having nightmares.”
“Hell, this place has given me nightmares for months.”
“Having someone else around really helps.” Ted smiled weakly. “Fixing the old place up helped a lot, you should have seen her before. It used to give me the screaming mimis. Each thing that gets repaired makes me feel a little better, more in control.”
“I’ll have to go back, you know.”
“Yeah, well by then we’ll both be rich men. I’ll be able to afford all the company I want or a hotel room.”
“Go for the hotel.” Jerry finished the cocoa and stared into his empty cup. “I’m afraid, Ted. What if I walk in my sleep again and go off the cliff.” It was a strange feeling; he had never been afraid to go to sleep before.
“I’ll keep an ear open for you. Come on. Let’s try to get some rest. We’ll clear up some time for you to study. Do you still want to learn to dive?”
Jerry sat there for a few moments, thinking. Not all his studying at college had helped him pass his classes, but those couple of hours of studying the diving books really helped. If he failed college, perhaps, he could move back here and take up diving. “Yeah, I do.”
“Great. It’s a blast Jer, it truly is. You’ll love it.”
“I think it’ll be fun. At least I’ll have learned something this semester.”
“What was that saying your swim coach kept telling you. That when you got to college that you shouldn’t let it get in the way of your education. Maybe this is what he meant. People need to know more than just what’s in books.”
“I’ll think about that.”
“Well, don’t stress too much. If you do flunk out, you can always come to school here, California has lots of them. And money shouldn’t be an issue.”
“You’re probably right.” No matter what happened this week, he was now a man of means. His entire future no longer depended on passing the semester. The thought was liberating, and Jerry felt more relaxed than he had all year.
“Good, are you ready for bed then?”
“If you don’t mind, I’ll keep the hall lights on.”
“Sure.” Ted headed toward the stairs. Jerry stood by the sink. The rumble of the thunder was dying down. He did not want to be alone, but least Ted was close if he started to sleepwalk again. He stumbled out of the room, leaving the lights on.
Before crawling back into bed, Jerry shoved his duffle bag hard against the door. He doubted that he could move it without waking up. He lay in his grandmother’s old bed, wrapped in what was almost certainly her quilt and listened to the storm retreat. Sometime later, in complete exhaustion, sleep took him.
The force of the storm infiltrated his dreams, and he found himself floating on the wild winds moving between the turbulent clouds. Dark, wet clouds thick with rain surrounded him. Lightning bolts that burst around him had lost their power to upset him; he instinctively understood that they were a force something to be used, not feared. The thunder trumpeted his approach.
The world below the clouds was vague and hazy, viewed through bleary eyes. Jerry felt that he was waking from a slumber so deep and so long that the very stars had changed. The world beneath was alien to him. A vast ocean spread from horizon to horizon; it defied comprehension. Energy vibrated through the clouds, tingling in every fiber of his being. It called to him; an irresistible beckoning that only intensified as the tingling sensation grew more urgent, compelling him to take heed of the world around him. He was waking.
The others awoke with him; they were absent from their world for too long; it was time to reclaim it — too much time, trapped in an uncomprehending dream world, floating helplessly on the currents of fantasy. His senses grew more acute, as though a veil was lifting, and the world was gaining reality. Each new sensation brought greater clarity. He sensed the presence of others like him dancing upon the storm.
On the vast plane of water below, an object drew his attention. It bounced precariously on the turbulent surface of the ocean. It was a strange, fabricated thing, fashioned from the tall plants that once fed the prey. It struggled against the force of the weather.
The vibration was coming from the object. He reached for it with arms of thought as the vibrations abruptly ceased. The world grew blurred and hazy. The dream realm was pulling him back. Desperately he tried to grasp something solid, anything that would anchor him to the world to preventing the veil of dreams from reclaiming him. He lacked the power to remain, however. The storm mirrored his fury. The world had left them. All that remained was the endless, gnawing hunger that would go unsatiated. The veil was weaker now, and he could still sense the world beyond.
The return of the vibration came as a surprise. The veil was fading again. The wooden thing was again battling the violent waves. Jerry was driven by the knowledge that the vibration must continue until they were completely through. He reached out with all his will, striving to reach out and grab the source, but he was too weak, too insubstantial.
He could feel the fear rising in the creatures that shared the object with the beacon. They suspected something was wrong. They could feel the predators that converged. There was a creature who would work against them. He could feel its intent to stop the signal. Repeatedly the others lashed out, the storm reacting to their fury. Jerry felt that it was futile; the creatures had grown too wise.
As spirits, they could not act directly. They needed assistance, an agent that would obey their will. Jerry felt his mind join with others. They were ancient as the earth. Their power would be unstoppable when the veil fell. As one, they reached out with their will, one last time.
Below the wooden object a creature, ancient and familiar followed in its wake. Underneath the craft, below the waves, a creature trailed the object, feeding on the scraps of food left in its wake. Jerry could feel its fear as he reached out for it. It was a familiar creature, a holdout from a more ancient time, primal and strong. It would be useful in serving them.
The shark only vaguely felt the collective willpower that was focused its intent upon it. It knew only sudden pain as its body convulsed and reshaped itself. Gills evolved taking on new structures until it could breathe above the waves as well as below. Its fins contorted and reformed to a more useful shape. Their final mental push gave it greater intellect and mission. It had become a perfect agent. Evolution had made it the oceans perfect killing machine in a time when the stars themselves were different. Now that it was theirs, they sent it where they could not go, onto the wooden construct.
Eagerly, the agent used its new-clawed limbs to pull itself up the side and onto the object. Wails of terror amongst the prey are quickly silent. As intended, the beacon’s tingling also called to it. Time caught up with them, hindering their plans. The sun rose and took the energy with it.
The veil solidified, but banishment would not last long. With the coming of the next moon, the signal would weaken the barriers. Each night, the beckoning allowed them greater access to the world. It was inevitable. Soon they would break free and again roam the world again feeding on its abundance.
Ted drove along the highway, talking as though nothing had happened. That was okay with Jerry. He wasn’t going to bring it up. Nevertheless, tension filled the cab. If Ted had been on the roof, he would fear for his brother’s sanity. Maybe Ted questioned, but he needed Jerry on the dive. It roosted between them, and they made small talk around it.
Like most of the businesses along the strip, the dive shop had a small storefront as they had to accommodate a large number of shops with highway-facing visibility. The shop receded deeply away from the street to allow for substantial retail space.
Jerry followed his elder brother inside. From the merchandise on the racks, he could tell that tourism was this store with its primary source of income. Typical beach “necessities”; numerous brands of sunblock lotion and tanning oils lined the shelves. To the left were beach toys, and towels held court on the right. Circular clothing racks filled with swimsuits and beach attire occupied the center of the shop, leaving small walking paths the rear of the shop on either side. Surfboards and scuba equipment crowed the back end. Behind a long, glass counter holding a cash register. Behind it, a man in a tee shirt was rubbing some wax into a surfboard.
“Hey, Ted,” The man greeted them. “Who’s your friend?”
“This is my brother Jerry.” Ted perused the glass display rack containing the diving knives and watches. “Jerry, this is Paul. He owns the place.”
“Ah, yes. Glad to meet you.” Paul offered a wax-covered hand. “Ted mentioned that you might be coming. Are you down for long?”
“I’m not sure, spring break at least.” He wondered how much Ted had confided in his friend. Ted was paranoid by nature; he probably didn’t tell him much. Jerry decided to say little about their plans.
“Well, have a good time.” Paul bent over the counter and added in a more confidential tone, “I know some great beaches and even better bars. Just in case Ted lets you roam free. Today he signed you up for our five-star accelerated dive class.”
“Ted has taken over my vacation planning.”
“Speaking of which, Paul. We need that scuba equipment that I reserved. You said you had a suit in Jerry’s size.”
“Got some new watches in too, good to a hundred meters, and they’re stylish.” Paul held up his wrist to show off the florescent green dive watch.
“I’ll get back to you next week on that, for now, we just need the gear.”
“Got most of it together, why don’t you find him a good mask? I’ll be right back.” Paul moved from behind the counter and circled, sizing Jerry up with his eyes.
Jerry followed Ted to a rack filled with masks snorkels and fins. “Well, let’s see. Paul told me that these were good; not too cheap, nor too expensive. I’ve got a pair, and I’ve never had a problem with them.” Ted grabbed a box from the shelf and handed it to Jerry.
“Can we afford all this?”
“Renting most of it. This snorkel looks good.”
“Ted, this all seems pretty expensive.” Jerry started to protest.
“Don’t worry, I got it.” Ted grabbed a set of swim fins.
“Can you afford this?” Jerry said. “After the house and all?”
“Don’t worry. I have an account. I work on Paul’s car to work some of it off. If everything falls apart, we can sell an acre or two.” Ted said. “These are good.”
“Are you sure?” Jerry was amazed at his brother’s largesse. He felt guilty for letting Ted pay for everything. Perhaps Jerry should offer to pay his share of the back taxes and repairs. He could hear Uncle Ernesto telling him to leave his wallet back in his dorm. His uncle knew about the cove. Of course he did, Ernesto had helped with the estate, and that was why he and Ted were arguing.
“I consider it an investment. Weight belt and neutral buoyancy vest.” Ted handed him two more boxes. “I think we’re finished. The rest is rental.”
Thank god, Jerry thought.
Crashing noises from behind the door marked “employees only” rang through the shop. It sounded as though Ted’s friend was tearing the storeroom apart. Jerry imagined unorganized shelved box avalanches, and Paul buried in swimsuits.
“If he’s got a suit in your size, he’ll find it.” Ted flinched with each new crash. A few moments later, Paul emerged, holding a gift-wrapped box tied with a ribbon and topped with a bow. The tag read. “Jerry, Happy late birthday. Ted.”
“Came in, just last week. I wrapped it myself. There’s a dressing room over by the swimsuits. Go try it on. It should fit, your brother has a good eye for things like that, but he won’t admit it.”
Box in hand, Jerry made his way to the front of the shop, carefully navigating the obstacle racks of flip-flops, swimming suits and beach towels finally reaching the stall marked “dressing room.” He pulled off the ribbon and opened the box to reveal what could only have been a wetsuit. He held up the hefty material and looked it over. It was black and blue with silver stripes down the side, and by no means the dumpy looking suit that Ted threatened me with earlier. The stall was small but just large enough to squeeze into the thick, skintight garment.
It felt strange, squashing, and pressing against his body on all sides at once. Jerry feared that he would be unable to move in the skintight garment, but a few test bends proved that assumption incorrect. The long mirror on the stall door indicated that it fit well. The thick material provided a warm, protected feeling. He fancied himself a knight, about to take on the great dangers in the deep wood, or, more precisely, the shallow ocean. The suit even made him look more buff. Well, he thought. If it helped with the girls on the beach, so much the better.
“Does this look right?” Jerry called out as he emerged. Ted and Paul were looking over scuba equipment. He performed a slow turn for their inspection.
“Looks good to me.” Ted looked up briefly.
“How does it feel?” Paul looked up from a pile of hoses and gauges.
“A little tight but okay, I think.”
“You’ll get used to that. Just so long as it doesn’t pinch, or crush anything important.” Paul added.
“No, I think I’ll still be able to have children.”
“Good, that’s the important thing. You’ll need to sign these for your certification.”
Paul hands him a medical questionnaire. “Fill this out before we start, you can give it back at the pool. See you in an hour or so. Ted said he would teach you the equipment and hand signals.” Paul said. “Pay attention. There is a required test.”
The pool was at the local community center. Jerry and Ted sat on the newly mowed grassy lawn in front of the building and Jerry filled out the medical forms. Luckily, Ted had thought to bring some sandwiches and a six-pack of cola. “Eat quickly; you need to wait thirty minutes to prevent cramps or something like that.”
“I’ve never gotten cramps before,” Jerry said.
“Me either, but the first part of the training is a swimming test. It’s easier than your senior year swim meet.” Ted took a few bites.
“Good,” Jerry answered between mouthfuls of the sandwich.
“How do you feel about the hand signals and gear? You good?” Ted asked.
“Good.” Jerry downed half a can of cola.
“Quiz time.” Ted started with hand signals. Jerry did fine. He had a harder time with the scuba equipment, except for the pieces they had just bought. He had never actually seen any of them; he had to operate from the diagrams and pictures in the library books Ted had gotten.
After one of the most grueling training sessions Jerry could remember, his instructor approached with a smile. “You are now a certified diver. Come by the shop tomorrow, and I’ll have a card for you.”
“I would recommend taking it easy your first few dives. Practice the basics. The water around here is a bit murky so you might want to invest in a dive compass.” Paul added. “It’ll sound like a sales pitch, but if you come back, I offer more advanced courses in cave diving and deep diving. I think you have a lot of potential.”
“I’ll think about it.” Jerry meant it. The class made him feel confident about himself; it was a feeling he’d not had in months.
“Great. I gotta head back to the shop. I’ll take the gear back with me. You can pick it up later.” Paul grabbed Jerry’s harness and straightened up.
“Thanks, that’ll be great.” Jerry followed Paul to a new red Ford Ranger. The bed was set up with tank racks, and Jerry helped him secure the depleted canisters.
“We’ll catch you tomorrow.” Paul hopped into his truck’s cab and drove off, leaving Jerry with his first moment of solitude he’d arrived.
Jerry walked along the beach. Although he never believed the old wives tale, he watched the sun set into the Pacific and strained his ears to hear the hissing sound. Nothing, he wasn’t surprised. He sat on the cold sand and reflected on everything that had happened since he’d arrived. His life had recently become a merry go round, and Ted was spinning it faster. As soon as he could come to terms with one earth-shattering revelation, Ted would grab the bars and spin it again.
Still, he was now a trained scuba diver, and just a little proud of himself.
The sun glinted off the waves, hiding its mysteries as it always had. Only now he had the tools to penetrate its depths and discover its secrets. He shivered with excitement. Looking past the waves, he stared into a new future.
“Well?” Ted’s voice interrupted Jerry’s reverie. “Did you pass?”
“I did.” Jerry continued to stare at the ocean. “Do you ever get used to the sight?”
“Of the ocean? No, not yet. The people here, they take it for granted. They never seem to look away from their lives to take it all in.”
“I hope I never get that jaded,” Jerry said.
“You ready for dinner?”
“Not yet, I’d like to watch the sunset. Do you mind?”
“I’m hungry, but I can wait.”
“Thanks.” The brothers walked along the shore, picking up a few of the shells scattered around, letting the waves lap at their feet, as the sun grew red in the western horizon. It blazed spectacularly as it struggled valiantly against the waves.
On the way back to the cove, they stopped to stock up on burgers. Most of the food, however, didn’t make it home, which was okay with Jerry.
Exhaustion drove him straight to bed, which was a good thing because, in the morning, the real test began. He was asleep in moments.