I numbly followed Manden’s search pattern over submerged rock faces. We found nothing. I felt nothing. My eyes scanned the rocks for carvings, registering only blank surfaces. Every detail was etched in my memory like a photograph in sharp black and white. Déjà vu, but not by me. I floated somewhere above it all, watching the two divers move slowly among the darting fish as the rhythm of distant breathing sshhh’d hypnotically.
Manden, face blank behind his dive mask, gestured a halt. There were no petroglyphs here. Maybe John had taken the photo somewhere else. Maybe it was all just a dream.
I was kicking along the wall, following his faster pace back to the boat, when a big silvery fish suddenly swam up in front of me. It gave me a challenging stare, flicked its tail in my face, and disappeared below.
Grabbing a rock, I wrenched myself up short. This was my only chance to find the petroglyphs. I couldn’t give up. I kicked hard to catch Manden’s fin.
He brusquely showed me his watch, flashing fingers for fifteen minutes. I turned back to the most likely section, swimming closer to the surface this time.
Nothing. Only the same cracks and fissures I’d checked the first time. Manden flashed ten fingers. We were close to the decompression limit. He jabbed a finger toward the boat.
I ignored the order, peering into one last crevice, a dark dead-end I’d already scanned. This time I leaned into it. Deep inside, a flicker of light.
Manden’s flashlight revealed a crude tunnel of fallen rock slabs. I eased around a sharp turn, tank scraping. Breaths hissed to a faster rhythm, silver trail streaming up in oozing blotches under the black stone ledges, quivering like live things. I squeezed out into an enclosed well of water twenty feet across, open at the top where rock slanted toward the cliff face but didn’t quite meet.
Shadows swirled in the trapped sea, suspended silt glinting as startled fish whipped past. A horned demon leaped out of the gloom.
Flashlight jumping, I eased closer. Petroglyphs covered the broad, flat rock making up the inner side of the well. It was bigger than I’d guessed from the blurry portion John had snapped. I stared at the strange/familiar designs, bird and fish and man-shapes dancing in the submerged light, rippling into life.
A wing-spread bird, talons extended. Curled serpent. Dancing figures. A sharp-horned goat. And spiral eyes, whirlpools into darkness.
Head throbbing, I floated forward, braced myself, and reached toward the boulder, half-expecting it to suck me inside. But I needed to know. I’d been lying to myself, it wasn’t only for my research I’d needed to find this glyph rock. The carved figures had called me through the Link, just as John had. Flinching, I flattened my palm over the stone.
A hand touched my shoulder. I flailed around, face to face with Manden.
His eyes were wide, startled-looking in the jittering swerves of the flash. I wrenched free, gestured curtly at his camera. He gave himself a shake and drifted over to the farthest point from the wall, fiddling with the camera. My teeth clamped on the mouthpiece, pulse pounding.
Maddeningly slow and painstaking, Manden took a full roll of film. Close-ups. Distant shots. Different angles. Finally he looked at his watch, beckoned sharply, and headed out the tunnel. A last glance at the carved stone rippling with light and shadow, and I hurried after him.
His fins disappeared around a narrow turn just as a spotted eel poked its head from a crevice beneath me, needle fangs glimmering. I dropped the flash, and it swung down on its cord. The light caught a metallic glint in the crevice.
The dive knife was coated with algae, blotched with a crusty growth. I worked it free, rubbed off the slime, and flashed the light over initials etched in the metal handle. V.M. Manden’s knife, marked like all his gear. He was lying. He’d been here, seen the petroglyphs before.
Hands shaking, I slipped the knife inside my wetsuit and kicked hastily out of the rock tunnel.
He was waiting outside the crack. With an impatient gesture, he set a fast pace to the boat, but the water tugged against me now, resisting as I thrashed to keep up. A shadowy current pulled me back toward the petroglyphs. The sea darkened around me.
The bulk of the boat loomed overhead, and I broke free to the surface. The sky mirrored the sea’s deepening gloom. Scudding clouds spattered rain, a rising wind stirring the cove’s surface and tossing whitecaps outside the cut. More clouds piled up from the north, building into a dark mass overhead.
“Shit!” Manden tore off his gear and hauled up the anchor. “Came out of nowhere. Better get back before it really hits!” He jerked his head at a storage cubby. “Rain slickers in there.” He spun the wheel and headed for the cut.
“Nothing.” I slammed the cubby shut.
“Great. Keep your wetsuit on, you’ll stay warmer. Strap those tanks in and get up here. Could be a wild ride.”
I staggered into my seat just as we shot out the gap into a frenzy of wind, rain, and chopping waves. Manden settled into the pilot seat, weaving the wheel back and forth to climb the waves racing in at an angle. We plowed, crashed, and slithered into the storm. Spray flew, the Whaler plunging. Manden laughed.
He was jazzed. Jaw clenched, I gripped tighter to the seat as we thrashed and climbed and dropped with a sickening plummet into a steep trough. Rain and cold spray lashed, stinging. We crashed jarringly into the next mountainous wave, and the next. The wind and the motor roared. Manden laughed again, shouted something.
I clung grimly, thoughts churning like the storm-wracked sea. Nothing to grasp but the boat crashing and jolting through drenching cold spray, dark clouds boiling in, the wind howling, and my life in the hands of Victor Manden, grinning madly in the teeth of the storm.
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