He’s dead, Tempest, I told myself as pain like nothing I’d ever felt before ripped through my soul. Dead. There’s no worse damage you can do, so stop being an idiot and try. Just try.
I gingerly pressed around until I found the bottom of his sternum. Put two fingers below it like Ms. Johnson had taught us in health class, and then pressed thirty times in rapid succession, doing my best to ignore the fact that my hand was in the center of the burn. Lightning had struck him almost directly in the heart.
I tilted his chin up again, breathed for him two more times.
Did more compressions.
Did more compressions.
Did more compressions.
Checked for a pulse.
Did more compressions.
Again and again, I breathed for him. Again and again, I tried to start his heart even though common sense told me that he was gone.
That no one could survive being struck like that.
That I was trying to do the impossible.
But still I didn’t stop. I couldn’t, not when everything inside of me was screaming for him to live.
Not Kona, I silently pleaded, tears streaming down my face as I compressed his chest thirty more times. Not Kona, when I’d already lost my mother. Not Kona, when I still might lose my dad and brothers and Mark.
Not Kona, when all he’d ever done was try to help me.
Not Kona. Not Kona. Not Kona. The words were a rhythm in my head while I worked, repeating the same motions again and again. But eventually I grew lightheaded and my arms began to ache, my muscles trembling under the strain.
“No!” It was a cry from deep inside of me, from a place I was just beginning to recognize. “Damn it, no!” There had to be a way.
I leaned over him, preparing to press my mouth over his yet again. My tears slid unchecked and unheeded down my cheeks and onto his face, then rolled over his cheek as well. It was at that moment that I felt the soft exhalation of his breath on my face.
It was such a shock that at first I could do nothing but stare, breath held, as I waited—much longer than should have been necessary—for him to do it again. But he didn’t.
Had I imagined it, then, that soft pulse of air against my cheek? I had been so certain …
Suddenly an idea came to me—so wild, so outlandish, that I did everything I could to ignore it. But once it had taken root, I couldn’t pretend that it wasn’t there.
He needed water. Not air. Not chest compressions. Water. His only response since being hit by the lightning was when my tears had touched his face.
I lifted my head for the first time since I’d started CPR, stared at the water that was just beyond the rocks. It might as well have been a hundred miles away. The earth was still trembling around me, the sky still split with bolts of lightning. How was I supposed to get his massive body down to the water when the world around me had gone utterly insane?
I couldn’t, at least not without risking his being hurt worse. Which meant—I glanced around, looked for something, anything, that I might use … My gaze fell on the small, red bucket I had pushed aside earlier and I wondered just how much water he needed.
Before I could think better of my completely suicidal plan, I scooped up the bucket and dashed straight back toward the ocean. As I ran, the sand fell away from beneath my feet and each step I took was across rockier, more uneven ground.
The voice I had heard earlier was strangely absent, the low, compelling demand of it finally silent. Is she gone, then? I wondered warily.
But the storm was stronger than ever.
When I was only a few feet from the ocean, I tripped over the roiling ground. Fell. Climbed back to my feet as the world exploded around me and then ran some more. I had only minutes before Kona would slip away forever—I didn’t know how I knew that, but the same instinct that had told me he needed water also told me this, and I believed it.
I finally made it to the water’s edge and scooped up a bucketful of the churning, agitated water. As I did so, I looked directly into the waves and nearly screamed at what I saw.
A dark, eerie face stared back at me, just below the wild surface of the ocean. I screamed, stumbled back, yet couldn’t resist looking for it again.
But it was gone. Just another crazy trick of my imagination, I figured, as I turned back toward the rocks and started running. Or was something there, waiting for me? Waiting for Kona?
This whole thing was getting creepier by the second. And my father wondered why I didn’t want to turn mermaid? After tonight, I wasn’t sure I’d ever want to set foot in the ocean again—even to surf. God only knew what was out there.
Of course, I had to survive until tomorrow, which was seeming more and more unlikely as a crack opened up in front of me and I nearly pitched face-first into it. I stopped in time, but negotiating around it was slow going—especially since I was terrified the stupid crack would grow large enough to swallow me at any moment. It was a fear I would have laughed off at any other time, but in that moment, on that beach, the threat seemed all too real.
Don’t do it. The voice was back. You’ll kill him if you do.
I paused, fear a wild thing beating against my ribs. Was I making the biggest mistake yet? Would the water end any hope—
Yes! That’s it. Let the water go. Pour it out onto the beach. Forget about—
No! I pushed back at the voice, tried to get it out of my head. I was right. I had to be because there were no other choices. It was this or Kona would be gone forever—simply because he’d cared enough to follow me. Cared enough to stand between me and whatever hell was waiting out there when I didn’t know how to fight for myself.
A strange compulsion came over me then, one that had me suddenly needing to dive into the ocean, despite my dark feelings about it. Needing it more than I wanted to take my next breath—more than I wanted to save Kona or see my family again. Ignoring the impulse, I dragged myself up the beach one slow, halting step at a time.
With each foot that I moved up the beach, the wind grew harsher. Sand flew through the air, along with shells and kelp—strange but effective marine missiles, transformed from simple detritus to painful weapons with a stroke of the wind.
The shells slammed into me, razor sharp against my too-sensitive skin, but still I didn’t stop. I couldn’t. To do so meant death, my instincts screamed. Death to Kona and death to me.
I stumbled onward and finally—finally—made it back to the shoddy protection of the rocks. Kona was still lying where I’d left him. With a quick prayer that I was doing the right thing, I flung the water directly onto his wound.
The second the water hit him, the lesion began to sizzle. Kona gasped, his body jerking spasmodically on the cold, hard sand.
Relief swept through me and I fell to my knees beside him. “Kona. Can you hear me?” There was no answer. “Kona?”
He groaned so low I barely heard it over the rumbling thunder and crack of lightning. But it was there, and it gave me hope when I had just about given up. He didn’t awaken, though. And before my horrified eyes, the ugly black burn on his chest changed, opened up, became a jagged-edged laceration—as if he’d been cut with a serrated knife.
Blood began to gush from the opening.
For long seconds I did nothing but stare at it, then raised my head and instinctively glanced around for help. But, of course, no one had suddenly appeared in the last five minutes. When I had fled the party, I’d run far and fast up the beach until I was in a secluded area, with no houses or hotels in sight. No one lived near here and the storm was keeping any visitors away. I was completely on my own.