“What were you thinking?” Genny nearly screamed, as we reached the safety of the fairy tree.
I couldn’t bring myself to look at her. I was so ashamed, not only of the situation I’d put us in but of the sacrifice that Genny had made on my behalf. My shell seemed to burn in my pocket.
“Take mine,” I offered. “I can’t… I just couldn’t stop. It was eating me and I’m so very sorry.”
Genny didn’t say anything but just glared at me with an intensity that seemed to channel the coming storm. “I’m not taking yours. That’s what I was avoiding, Vivian.”
“If we can find the treasure, then we can fix everything. Mr. Sarffer says it can change fate.” I ran my hand through my hair delirious with the possibilities. “Our grandfather, my brother, we could fix all of it.”
“Yes, of course. Mr Sarffer would tell the truth.” Genny’s sarcasm was heavy and scalding. “Even if that is true, even if all you have to do is touch it. How do you know that that’s what it’ll do? Do you even know how to use it?”
“He said I just have to touch it.”
“You are supposed to be the logical one here, Viv!” Genny threw her hands in the air and paced as she ranted. “We have no idea what is there. You just have this feeling that’s drawing you there. I can’t believe you threw everything away for scraps of information about something that just randomly captured your interest. I’m so angry with you right now. Do you know how I loved that shell? These summers? This is all I have. I’ll go back in a couple weeks and this? This is my breath of air before being submerged for months and I just gave away a lifeline for you. So don’t stand there offering me something that shall never be able to replace what I lost.” She began stomping towards the clear bay, before calling back, “This treasure had better be worth it!”
It was only when we had found trowels at Bay Cottage and were on our way back toward the posts, that the tension was somewhat alleviated.
“This is like a proper treasure hunt,” Genny said with grudging excitement.
I too, hummed with suppressed emotion. However, both of us stopped when we reached the posts. An unseen energy seemed to hang about the edge of the circle and we both were wary to test it. Hesitantly, we both shifted from foot to foot. All around us the trees snapped and the distant seagrass almost wrenched itself from its roots and launched into the sky.
“I swore I saw footprints in there yesterday,” I said to Genny without ever removing my eyes from the sand where the prints had showed yesterday.
Genny turned to me and then to the circle. “You went in yesterday?”
I only shook my head.
“Well, that’s creepy.” She took a breath and then looked around. I could only nod in agreement. I took a steadying breath, there was no way I wasn’t going in there. There was no way I would waste the precious sacrifice of Genny’s shell. I began to step forward but Genny laid a staying hand on my arm.
“Together,” Genny held out her hand. I smiled, and once my hand was securely in hers we stepped forward in tandem.
The effect was instantaneous. The howling wind was faint now and the loud calls of the gulls, distant. I almost stumbled with the sudden change but Genny’s hand steadied me.
“This is very very odd,” Genny said glancing around and taking it all in. I felt it too.
“I…” I couldn’t explain myself when I stepped back over the perimeter and was assaulted by the wind and noises of the sea. I shook my head and rejoined Genny. “I just had to,” I said by way of an explanation.
“If you hadn’t, I would have,” she shrugged and then gestured toward the mound in the middle of it all. “So that’s where whatever it might be is?”
I pursed my lips and then shrugged. “That would be my guess. Mr. Sarffer did say it was under the mound.”
“Well we better get to it then. The tide won’t wait for anyone.”
With the exception of during our punishment, I’d never seen Genny more motivated. For nearly a half hour we dug sand, piling it precariously next to our ever growing hole.
“There has to be something here,” Genny gritted through clenched teeth. Neither of us had thought to bring drinks or snacks and the light lunch was no longer staving off the growing hunger that made us both cantankerous.
The squelching about my trainers was not only making it difficult to stand in one spot too long but also adding to the ever increasing tension that both Genny and I felt at being out on the bay for any great length of time. I bit my lip and looked about, the ground was slowly saturating. Although the water had not yet begun to rise above the sand the tide was coming in. Our hole somehow wasn’t filling with the water that I would have expected though. Just another piece of uncertainty and strangeness within this bubble of odd.
“If we don’t find something in the next quarter of an hour, we have to call it,” I said wearily.
Genny leaned against her trowel and glared at me.
“I know,” I said wiping my hand over my eye. “But we can’t get caught out here.” My face was wet when I drew my hand away and I realised that I was shedding tears of frustration.
“It has to be here, Viv.” Genny said softly with a confidence that I always envied. “Something has to be here. There’s no other reason that there’s a mound of sand here. Now, stop crying and help me find this bloody thing. Because if I find it first I’ll just change what colour of hat I bought before my trip.”
She attacked the hole with another round of ferocity that made me smile and so we kept digging but it wasn’t until our time was nearly up that we heard a tell-tale ring of metal. Both of us dropped to the ground but there was only room for one of us in the hole. Genny sat back and watched as I pushed the sand away with my trowel. A glint of silver peeked through the sand.
“Quick, widen the hole.” We both sprang up and began quickly pushing the sand back until the sides were more gentle slopes than the sharp drops they’d been before. Using the trowels we began to uncover the edge of a large dome, about the size of a serving bowl. When most of it was revealed, I set down my shovel and peered at the etchings carved into its surface.
“There’s something written here.” Genny crossed to my side and we both squinted at the letters whilst I gently let the etchings run under my fingers. “It feels smooth. Like the words are in the bowl.” I followed the words of strange writing round the rim with my fingers.
“Odd,” Genny reached out and traced the same patterns. “I wonder how deep it’s buried.” She reached for her shovel then grunted in pain.
I looked up from the bowl, “What’s wrong?”
“My hand,” Genny looked at her fingers in horror. “Viv, I can’t move my hand! Get it off! Get it off!” She scrambled away from the bowl, her heels digging into the wet sand. The bowl wrenched from it’s position and slid along the saturated ground with her. My arm shot forward and I fell, face first into the thin layer of water that now covered the ground, my hand still attached to the bowl.
Genny began screaming, shaking her hand, as if to remove stray water but the bowl wouldn’t budge. My shoulder ached from the sudden, jerky movements. The pain, surely the only reason I too hadn’t also fallen into panic, pulsed intensely.
“Genny, stop!” I yelled over her cries. “Don’t move!”
A sudden silence fell, with only a few shuddering breaths. “Viv, what is this thing?”
“I don’t know but I’m stuck too. Just a moment here.” I awkwardly pulled myself into a sitting position and tried to control my breathing as I studied the seemingly innocuous item. “I was fine a moment ago.” I slid my captured hand around the side of the bowl. I could change my hand’s position but not actually remove it. “Ok, Genny stay there.” I slid my hand to where hers was and sat down next to her. “It’s all right. It’ll be all right. We’ll carry it back to Bay Cottage and Nainy will know what to do.”
Genny sniffed but nodded.
“Come on, careful of your free hand.” Fumbling as best I could, I helped her to her feet and then followed. With a bit of careful manoeuvring we were able to position our hands on the bowl so that we could carry it between us. I wasn’t sure what we were going to do. It wasn’t something I cared to dwell ont. Nainy would know.
We started back across the bay, our soaked trainers splashing through the water. “Maybe you’ll have to come home with me.” I tried joking but Genny just smiled weakly. I opened my mouth to offer another soothing platitude when my breath shot out of me and my heart jumped.
Both of us fell back with a splash, the bowl wrenching our shoulders painfully. Genny cried out and we both struggled forward, where we met an invisible barrier.
“No,” I cried, pressing myself forward into the wall of air. “No!”
“Viv,” Genny’s shaking voice cut through the panic and I glanced to what she was staring. A wooden post stood only a short distance away, marking the edge of the circle. The edge we’d just run into. Our position was made only more horrific by the fact that the bottom few centimetres of the post was now covered in water. I looked at Genny my eyes mirroring the terror on her own face.
“It was fine. It was fine before.” I whispered to myself in disbelief.
“It’s this cursed thing!” Genny swung the bowl through the air at our prison wall but it just clanged off and again.
“ I don’t know what to do,” I whispered as the water soaked through our trouser legs. I was on the edge of panic.
“Viv, Viv!” Genny was pulling me up and pointing at a dark shape making its way towards us. I pressed myself against the barrier in an effort to make out what it was.
“It’s a person!” I said breathlessly. “Hey! Over here!” Genny and I both jumped and yelled until we were hoarse but whoever it was didn’t speed up though they seemed to be still heading directly towards us. By the time I could see who it was, the water was seeping up over the edge of my shoes, just touching our socks.
“Oh my, what a predicament,” Mr. Sarffer said as he strolled towards us, hands in his pockets.
“Mr. Sarffer, thank goodness!” Genny called. “We’re trapped in here. We’re stuck to this bowl and the tide’s coming in! Do you know how to…” Genny trailed off because Mr. Sarffer was laughing. It was a distrubingly evil sort of sound. So full of equal parts joy and malice that it made me shiver.
He laughed and he laughed until he had to wipe a tear from his eye. Genny had fallen deathly silent but I could feel her shaking with rage. My own anger was building, sweeping away the shock. “I am just so pleased with how well this all worked out. I’d heard young boys were a handful but I’ve never seen anything as deliciously stupid and driven as you two. It didn’t even take a full day before you were out here.”
“You wanted us to come out here. You lied to us,” I spat the words out with venom.
Mr. Sarffer’s face lost its glee. “Now Miss Vivea, that’s a nasty accusation. I’m many things, very few of them good. But I always keep my word and I never lie. I said there was a treasure buried under the mound and there was.”
“You said it could change fate, not trap us!” I shouted.
A malicious grin broke out on his face and he chortled, “I did say that, didn’t I? Well, let me put it this way. Anyone who touches that thing changes their own fate. You both would have grown into lovely young ladies, maybe gone off to school, maybe married and had children. But now, now you shall drown with nothing but your life and the sea before you. I would say that is a fate-changer, would you not?”
A sob tore from Genny’s throat. “Why? Why would you do this to us? We haven’t done anything to you!”
Mr. Sarffer nodded understandingly, “It’s true. Most unfortunate really. Be that as it may, you’re still Morgans and I once swore once to have revenge upon your family. You see I speak truthfully. I keep my word.”
Genny screamed and threw herself at the wall. My arm jerked with the movement but instead I just stared at Mr. Sarffer with the intensity that he usually used. And then it hit me, “You’re the sea dragon.”
Mr. Sarffer’s serpentine smile widened and his teeth seemed to instantly sharpen, “Ah, very observant Miss Vivea.” He laughed and Genny and I drew back instinctively as he snapped at us. This made him laugh harder.
“But you can’t be a sea dragon,” Genny stuttered, her eyes wide and unbelieving. She too had made the connection involving our family history.
“Why not? I’ve waited for this for hundreds of years and another twenty to make sure the time was right.” He looked out over the bay. “I can assume any form I wish and whilst being human is mundane and degrading, it was was worth it for this moment. To watch the descendants of that fool fisherman perish in his bay.”
“Then you broke your promise. You promised not to harm us,” I bit out the words, filling them with disgust.
“So accusatory. But I did not harm you. You’ve reached this path on your own. Though I may have provided help along the way. You asked for the information that would lead to your doom.” He smiled at us again with his unblinking eyes and maniacal smirk.
“You put this trap here!” Genny accused. The bowl was getting heavy now and it sagged between us. But we were both unwilling to sit on the ground at Mr. Sarffer’s feet.
“Ah, yes. That is true,” Mr. Sarffer conceded. “But that was before our agreement and really the Morgan’s are responsible for the fact that it’s even visible.”
“What do you mean?” I asked cautiously.
“The Morgans are the protectors of this bay Miss Vivea. They are the ones that hid the bowl and circle all those years ago. When they reside here, they keep it safely buried from prying eyes.”
“It was you,” Genny gasped. “You are the one who sent the iron to drive our grandfather away. You are the one who caused the rift, the reason our parents left.”
Mr. Sarffer seemed to want to bow in acknowledgement but was barely restraining himself. “I wish I could take all the credit but your family went above and beyond. I merely provided the opportunity. And with only one Morgan here, certain things came to light.”
Genny and I had both fallen silent, now aware our predicament was fatal and unlikely to change. My shoulders sagged not only with the effort to keep the bowl up but with the knowledge that it was my foolishness that had landed us in this situation.
“Yes, you two preformed spectacularly. I’ve been trying to get at least Genny out here for the last two summers. But she doesn’t seem to be affected by the lure and she was allowed ever so much more freedom with you here.” Mr. Sarffer regarded her thoughtfully. Then as if giving up the matter, shoved his hands back into his pockets. “I have a bit of a distraction to maintain, so that grandfather of yours doesn’t catch wind of this. It has truly been a pleasure ladies.” He bowed to us both and then continued his walk farther out on the bay. A gull swooped toward us with a cry and when we looked again, Mr. Sarffer had disappeared into the sea.
“I suppose it’s too much to hope he drowns,” Genny spat from gritted teeth.
“I doubt sea dragons have much trouble with water.” I sighed and then squatted down to relieve the weight of the bowl. “I’m so sorry, Genny. If I hadn’t…”
“Viv,” Genny’s tone stopped me. “You are my cousin, and if I wasn’t here, then you’d be here alone. You heard him, there was a lure or something. Not that I’m saying your not a right idiot for doing all of this. But, honestly don’t apologise. I won’t be able to handle it if you do and I shan’t cry anymore about this ridiculous turn of events.” She squared her shoulders and looked to where Mr. Sarffer had disappeared. “He shan’t get anymore of my tears.”
I nodded, grateful but still heavy with guilt. “There might be a weak spot. Should we walk the perimeter?”
“I honestly can’t carry this bowl much longer,” she looked over at the mounded sand from our excavation efforts. “We should pile it up higher if we can now. The bowl shall drag us down with the tide. If we have a higher vantage it might give us a bit more time before…” she trailed off.
“For someone to find us.” I finished, sounding more hopeful than I felt. We heaved ourselves forward and began making preparations to stave off our slow execution.
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