Surf Monks of New Hawai'i
Ahoy, Ship City
Pallie hated the ocean, which was unfortunate since she lived in a city of half-sunk cruise ships stranded a mile offshore. Endless water surrounded her life. Waves crashing against this, seagulls stealing that, saltwater burning everything.
Well, she’d had enough.
She’d stayed up half the night scheming, clicking her nails against her teeth deep in thought while dodging her grumpy bunkmate’s cane. But when the idea finally came, it was worth all of Old Sophia’s yelling. Pallie’s newest plan wouldn’t just get her out of the last-minute swim drills announced for today, it’d keep her out of the ocean forever. She rubbed her hands together and cackled, but kept it down so the one person who disliked her in all of Ship City wouldn’t hear.
Ship City’s premier villainess darted down the pier, blowing short, angry bursts on her whistle and shouting orders to Pallie’s classmates as they gasped through brutal swim drills. Pallie dreamed of stealing that whistle and feeding it to the tiger sharks that circled their hulls in winter. Unfortunately, dramatic acts of revenge wasn’t appropriate behavior for the daughter of Her Majesty’s Heroes, a.k.a. the Fearless Founders, Selfless Saints, Daring Defenders, et cetera, cetera, clearly not people who steal.
Technically, scheming to get out of swim drills wasn’t appropriate, either, but Pallie believed her parents would understand why she hated the ocean, if she ever had the chance to explain it to them.
Which, of course, she wouldn’t.
Her sweaty palms clutched the flax towel tight against her body so the whipping winds wouldn’t reveal her skin too soon. It was cold down on the piers that morning, the rising sun still hidden behind the Hawaiian Fantasy’s lopsided, rusting hulk, the queen of Ship City’s ramshackle fleet. Pallie paced in its shadow down the line of kids waiting their turns, as nervous as opening night for one of her plays. Coach Lucy had really outdone herself this time—to complete the morning’s obstacle course relay race, the swimmer had to cross “shark-infested waters,” which was just a bunch of older kids thrashing about trying to grab your ankles, rescue a baby (wooden) from drowning, and crawl upon a piece of wreckage until the next swimmer tagged you out.
It almost looked fun, if a little morbid. Except for the whole ocean part.
What Pallie didn’t understand, though, was why there was another drill at all. The swim trials to qualify for the Captain’s elite crew of brave First Mates were held over a month ago, and Pallie had already used up her best excuse to get out of them then. When Coach Lucy announced the additional drills, it’d thrown everyone overboard—the promotions announcement was scheduled for tomorrow at Ship City’s Founding Day celebrations. Was there a problem with the scores? Had the Captain decided the first trials weren’t difficult enough?
And for Pallie particularly: how in the hull was she going to get out of facing the ocean this time?
They’d waited for an explanation, but so far, none had been given. One of Pallie’s braver classmates raised his hand now, and everyone hushed to listen.
“Coach Lucy? Does our score from this drill replace the one from before? Or is it added to it? Or—”
Coach Lucy cut across the pier and fixed her black, beady eyes on him. “Does there need to be a reason to test our bodies against the elements?”
“No…” The boy swallowed. “I just wondered why—”
“Why?” Coach Lucy rasped in her permanently hoarse voice. “WHY?!” She gripped her whistle in her fist, and a fat vein popped out of her forehead.
“Uh oh,” someone whispered. “The vein is out.”
Coach Lucy stood there, chest heaving. Her glassy, black eyes blinked once, twice, and began to…
“Because you all need to be very, very good swimmers!” She threw her whistle down on the planks. “The First Mates is a lifelong job, and we depend on them with our lives! You hear me? Our LIVES!”
The ocean swished malevolently against the otherwise shocked-silent pier. The judges rose from their table and joined her, patting her back and speaking to her in hushed tones.
Coach Lucy, crying? Was the world ending again?
Pallie’s heart twinged unexpectedly for her lifelong nemesis. If she was being fair, Coach Lucy, with her wiry frame, tight ponytail, and inexplicable love of cardiovascular fitness, wasn’t pure evil. After all, when you lived in a bunch of broke-down ships stranded off the forbidden shores of New Hawai’i, you needed to know how to swim. Pallie could admit that. But once you learned, why tempt fate? Very impractical.
Her arms twitched restlessly at her sides, as though they wanted to squeeze the mysterious sadness out of Coach Lucy with a big, tight hug. Pallie shook her head. If she dared, the old, bitter coach would probably throw Pallie to the sharks herself.
Coach Lucy shooed the judges back to their seats, and the drills began again, but the collective mood had changed from nervous to downright apocalyptic. What was going on?
Her classmates eyed the judges nervously, but Pallie wasn’t worried about them. It didn’t matter if she swam the fastest or drowned all the babies (wooden) in the world—there’s no way the daughter of Her Majesty’s Heroes wouldn’t be promoted to the First Mates. Being a hero like her parents was Pallie’s destiny, whether she wanted it or not. And if her genius plan worked, she could be the hero everyone wanted her to be, a proper First Mate, whether she was brave or not, too.
She peered down the line. Just a few kids away from her turn. She cackled again to get into the spirit, but the sight of Coach Lucy’s puffy face choked the sound in her throat.
“I don’t know about this, Pallie.” Donovan, her best friend and reluctant accomplice, shifted from foot to foot beside her, already looking guilty.
Despite being every bit as good of an actor as Pallie, Donovan was complete garbage at lying. She couldn’t understand why—the skills were exactly the same. They’d rehearsed the plan three times over their seaweed gruel breakfast, and still he kept glancing at her with that sorrowful face.
She flapped her hand at him. “Stop that, you’ll give us away to the fitness devil.”
“But I thought you wanted to be a First Mate.” Donovan pulled at his hair. “The swim trials are required. Don’t you think you should at least try?”
“Hmm,” Pallie pretended to think. “No.”
He crossed his arms with a huff. “If you’d just tell the Captain you’re scared—”
“I’m not scared—I’m practical about dangerous things. It’s different.” Pallie clutched her towel tighter. She was the daughter of heroes, et cetera cetera. She wasn’t allowed to be scared. “And the ocean is the most dangerous thing ever. If the Captain thinks I’m allergic to it, then he won’t make me go in it—First Mate or not. Problem solved.”
Donovan didn’t look convinced.
Cold licks of water splashed Pallie’s pacing feet as Hildy, the girl before her, jumped in the ocean.
“You’re next, Pal.” Coach Lucy rasped behind her, raising goose bumps on Pallie’s neck. “Show us what a—” her voice broke, “survivor you are.”
Pallie grimaced. Coach Lucy was not making this any easier.
“I just think,” Donovan whispered as they watched her stalk away, “that you’re going about this wrong.”
“And I just think,” Pallie whispered back, “that if you want my desserts for a week, you’ll hush and do your part.”
A horn blew. Hildy and her ankles were past the “sharks.”
The hot November sun burned around the Fantasy’s decrepit edges until it finally emerged, like a glaring spotlight beating down on her. New Hawai’i basically had two seasons—summer and summer-but-we’re-gonna-call-it-winter-oh-and-watch-out-for-sharks. It was the latter of the two seasons, so of course it was a great time to schedule additional swim drills. As if the ocean wasn’t dangerous enough, Coach Lucy waited until there were sharp-toothed predator fish prowling around.
A bell dinged in the distance, and her teeth clicked together. The baby was saved.
Cheers exploded from the pier as Hildy’s strong arms cut towards the last obstacle. She was making great time, and the judges had noticed. Dora, the senior First Mate on deck, leaned over the judge’s table and squinted into the gleaming Pacific to watch Hildy.
Sure was a tough act to beat. Good thing Pallie wasn’t going to try.
Beneath its silvery scrim, the water lapping against the pier was dark, almost black. At some point over the last few minutes, Pallie’d edged backwards until she was standing in the middle of the pier, offstage, beneath the Fantasy’s long, cold shadow once more.
Maybe this was a bad idea. Maybe her genius plan wasn’t genius at all. Whatever was going on with Coach Lucy had gotten in her head, thrown her off her game.
The exit glimmered to her right like an oasis.
A trumpet blared. Hildy was on the wreckage, waving her arms. All eyes spun to Pallie as they cheered her next.
They wanted her to be great, they expected her to be great. Ugh—why couldn’t she be great?
She took another step backward.
Wrong way, feet. Run! Jump in!
But her feet remained planted on the salty planks of the pier.
The cheers melted into whispers, and Dora frowned over her clipboard. Poor Donovan looked like he was about to have a stroke. But Pallie couldn’t care about that, not when the dark and dangerous ocean stared her down, lying in wait like the murderer it was.
The whistle screamed.
“Quit thinking those dramatic thoughts, Pal,” Coach Lucy yelled around the whistle lodged between her teeth, “and save yourself!”
Pallie dug her nails into her palms. If she ran away now, there’d always be another swim drill, another turbine to polish, another way Ship City would force her into the water. But her plan could save her, she just needed to be brave enough to do it.
She leveled her gaze beyond the ocean and found Big Island’s iridescent green shore instead, hovering in the distance like a beautiful dragonfly out of her reach.
The island, where people lived without fear of sinking, of drowning.
The thought of it lifted her up.
With a banshee yell, Pallie barreled towards the pier’s edge, her coward eyes trained on the island that gave her hope, but that she’d never touch. At the last second, she released her towel and jumped.
The water swallowed her whole. Its coldness wrapped around her body and squeezed like the muscly tongue of a vast monster. She thrashed against it, trying to surface, but her big jump drove her down into the ocean’s throat.
It amazed her, how fast the panic set in.
The currents fought to claim her, but she fought back, hard and angry and without direction. Was she really going to die in the ocean during step one of her plan not to die in the ocean?
Dang it, no! All her life, she’d waited for a chance to star in her own story, not one about her hero parents, or one of Teacher Bruce’s plays. How could her story end now before it’d even begun?
The surface flickered above, and she reached for its lighter blues. Her legs found the rhythm of her heartbeat and kicked to it, like a certain coach had taught her in a less evil moment.
Pallie’s fingers broke through first. The coarse wooden pier bobbed beneath her hands, and her head emerged screaming.
“HEEEEELLLLP!” Pallie banged her fist with gusto against the pier before slipping back into the water. She may not be brave, but she could still act. She screamed again, letting the water gurgle into her mouth for effect. Donovan was first to the scene as planned, and pulled her out of the water.
On cue, she moaned, and—
Nothing. Donovan missed his line! She cracked an eye open to glare, but he looked as terrified as she’d felt in the water.
She spared a glance down and nearly choked. The theater makeup she’d carefully applied that morning ran off her body like red, dribbling lies. She’d assumed the thick goop was waterproof, but no, all her fake blisters were gone, the plan ruined!
She covered her horror with a wet hacking cough.
Think, think, think! Her fingernails clicked against her teeth as the patter of adult-sized feet thumped towards her.
“Pinch me,” Pallie whispered suddenly between her fingers. “NOW!”
Donovan, a true friend, pinched her all over. He got some good ones in, too. Pallie wailed and cried and owie-wowie-owwww’ed, which led to a really authentic performance.
If Donovan would remember his dang lines.
“She’s covered in hives!” she prompted, then closed her eyes again as Donovan finally belted out his line.
“Hives, I say!” he repeated. “She’s clearly allergic to—fishimus excretimus?”
Way to sell it, Donnie.
Pallie moaned louder and flopped artfully. Dora pushed past the throng of worried onlookers, but by the time the First Mate fell to her knees beside her, Pallie was covered in honest-to-goodness welts. She almost felt bad the way Dora’s eyes went round, but the show must go on.
Coach Lucy stood over them both with her hands on her hips. “What is this?!”
“Lucy, look!” Dora pointed to Pallie’s skin.
Coach Lucy bent down, nose scrunched, and picked up one of Pallie’s lifeless arms. Red dripped on the pier.
“Sores—oozing sores!” Pallie mewled. “They’re-cough-common to fishimus excretimus allergies.”
Coach Lucy flinched back and let the arm drop. Dora checked Pallie’s vital signs, then helped her sit up. “Fishimus what now?”
Funny, Donovan had asked Pallie the same thing. Didn’t anyone know Latin anymore?
Dora shifted to Donovan, waiting for an explanation. Would he crack under pressure or keep his end of the bargain?
“Um, my mom said something about it once.” Donovan raked a hand through his hair, and for some unknown reason, began to do knee-bends.
So. Cracking, then.
“Pallie’s allergic to fish poop, okay?” he yelled, then jumped into the ocean and swam through the deserted obstacle course.
Oh, Donovan. Such a gentle soul.
Pallie clenched her teeth. A gentle soul who definitely wasn’t getting her desserts.
Dora raised one eyebrow. “Fish poop?”
“Aye.” Pallie folded her hands across her chest and looked as pale as possible. “The ocean’s full of it, you know.”
Dora pressed her lips into a thin line. The welts were puffy and raised, and would purple into bruises before long. It’d all be worth it, though, if it kept her out of the ocean.
After a minute, Dora waved over the other Mates on duty. “Take Pallie to the infirmary. She might have had… an allergic reaction to—something.”
“No!” Coach Lucy protested. “She has to prove she can swim! That she can survive—”
“Those welts are real, Lucy,” Dora cut her off, her eyes frowning. “Pallie needs to see Dr. Mendez.”
DOUBLE YES! Pallie took an invisible bow as the First Mates loaded her onto the linen stretcher. The plan worked! They bought it! She’d never have to go in the ocean again!
Her joy was almost complete.
“Worry not, dear Lucy.” Pallie grasped the Coach’s leathery hand and gazed into her disbelieving eyes, black and rimmed in red. “If I die, it’s only partly your fault. Farewell all!”
Imaginary crowds thundered applause as she was carried away, but the joy from her excellent exit fell flat as Coach Lucy’s red eyes followed her, the strange words echoing in her head.
Prove she can survive what?
To read more, well, you're just going to have to wait until some publisher snaps it up, now aren't you.