Eva’s beloved husband Marc had always been secretive about his family and why he left them behind. After he is swept overboard in a terrible accident, bits of his past begin to surface. So do rumors and urban legends about the small island where he grew up. As her suspicions about him deepen, Eva is tortured by nightmares, and her mind begins to unravel. Will discovering her husband’s secret break her? Or will it set her free?
Caution: this story is not a Romance.
“I’d love to hear one of his stories.”
Alex glanced at her. “Right now?”
“Yeah.” She turned toward him and braced her elbow on the center console.
“I don’t entirely remember some of them. The details, you know?” His shoulders rose as his hands tightened on the wheel. “I only remember the scary parts.”
“But you remember a couple? I just want to hear one,” she coaxed. “It’s okay if it’s light on details.”
Alex stopped at a red light. “All right, but you’re not going to like it,” he said, giving her sidelong look.
She raised her hands defensively. “Hey, I can handle a scary story.”
“O-kay,” he said as if not convinced. She sucked her teeth at him and lightly slapped his arm. “Well, you should know my uncle had a lot of stories about a ‘friend of a friend,’ or an ‘old drunk down at the bar.’”
“Only one old drunk?” she joked. Alex cracked a smile.
“But some stories were his,” he went on. “Or so he claimed. He’s always alone at the time—or with a friend who has since passed on, of course.”
“One time, he told me and my cousins about something he saw while on a day trip out on The Herald. It was the middle of summer. Bright, real warm. They were skirting the southeastern side of Vagar, half a mile out at most. Enough to avoid the shallows.”
The light turned green. Alex pushed the gas, and Eva set her chin in her hand.
“He’s up in the wheelhouse while my aunt—uh, his late wife—and his kids, who were still real little at the time, are all down in the galley having lunch. He’s drinking a beer and watching the island when he sees what looks like a bunch of kids on the shore.”
“Kids from Calburgh?”
“I asked him the same thing,” he recalled. “But he said he didn’t see any kayaks or rowboats, and not even the most energetic kids could row against the currents constantly pushing off the island, so he figured ’em for locals.”
“How old were they?”
“Early teens, maybe. My uncle had a set of binoculars, but he was a couple beers in and it was a real bright day, like I said, so it wasn’t easy to tell.”
“Okay. So what were they doing? Fishing?” She lowered her voice. “Getting rid of a body?” she speculated, raising one eyebrow.
“My uncle said at first it looked like they were skinny-dipping.”
“So they were naked?” she asked, though it was more of a statement.
“Yeah, and diving under the water, like they were trying to see who could hold their breath the longest.”
Frowning, Eva pulled into herself. “Please tell me they weren’t attacked by sharks.”
“He didn’t see anything like that,” he assured her, “but when a couple kids didn’t seem to come back up, he got real worried they were accidentally drowning themselves.”
“What?” she whispered, incredulous.
“He was glued to his binoculars, wondering whether he should radio the Coast Guard.” Another red light brought them to a stop.
She furrowed her brow. “Why didn’t he?”
“Well, none of the kids seemed scared or upset. They just kept diving under and popping up later.”
In her mind’s eye, Eva pictured far-off, pale-skinned figures, their outlines softened by distance and the summer heat. Wet limbs and splashes flashed among the sparkle of sunlit water.
“My uncle guessed there were about eight or ten kids when he first spotted ’em,” Alex continued, “but over the ten minutes or so that passed, fewer and fewer came back up. And eventually he could only see one kid, standing waist-deep in the water.”
Her imagination placed an adolescent boy in the rocky shallows, one with a messy head of dirty-blond hair and a lean physique that had recently passed from sweet child to confident young man.
“The kid stood there, alone and real still, for a solid minute. My uncle tried to get a sense of whether he was crying or what. But he couldn’t get a good look through a pair of binoculars while standing on a swaying boat.”
Unlike Uncle Virgil, Eva’s sense of the boy clarified. His familiar eyes, squinting in the bright sun under flat, thick eyebrows. His long, upturned nose, sprinkled with freckles. His wide, pouty lips that hid a smile so dazzling it could hypnotize.
“And then finally, the last kid went under,” Alex said.
Marc moved with purpose, bending his knees and extending his arms in front of him. In one athletic motion, he dove. And the last she saw of him was the wet, sun-kissed skin on his back and buttocks.
Eva blinked and focused on Alex, who regarded her soberly.
“Never came back up?” she asked.
He shook his head. “None of them did. Eight or ten kids just disappeared into the water off Vagar Island.”
“An underwater cave, maybe?” she postulated. “With a pocket of air?”
Alex lifted his shoulders. “Maybe.”
The car behind them tapped its horn, and they both glanced at the green traffic light. Alex took his foot off the brake and continued on.
They spent the rest of the trip to her house in silence. Eva couldn’t guess what Alex contemplated, but all she could think about was what Marc’s life had been like before he’d fled to Calburgh. Had he enjoyed happy days in Worthy? Made any friends? And had he ever gone down to the rocky shallows on the island’s southeastern shore?