Sequel Sunday: Sea Star 1 by Jessie Bishop Powell
Jessie Bishop Powell grew up in rural Ohio. She now lives in Montgomery, Alabama with her husband and their two children. She has Master’s Degrees in English and Library Science from the University of Kentucky. Jessie’s first book, Divorce: A Love Story was published as an e-book by Throwaway Lines in 2011. The Marriage at the Rue Morgue, her debut mystery, was released in hardback on Friday, July 18, 2014. The sequel to this, The Case of the Red-Handed Rhesus, released February 17, 2016.
If not for the starfish, Jolene would never have found the cave. “I hate that fucking starfish,” she muttered.
Sea star. In Jolene’s mind, her mother corrected her.
“Whatever. I wish I’d let it dry up on the damned beach.”
No, that wasn’t true. Even in her current agitated state, she couldn’t go that far. What she did wish was that she hadn’t been so overzealous with her rescue. She could have carried the thing to the surf to be washed to safety.
How many times have I told you to take care of yourself first? You can’t help anybody dead.
Thanks bunches, Mom. As the tide rose, jolting and sloshing Jolene closer to the rock ceiling, she saw her mother’s point. Too bad you won’t get the satisfaction of knowing you were right. “Focus. Cool it.”
Jolene was a runner, a biker, a swimmer, a boxer, a fiend for crossfit and pilates. She got off on exercise and loved her muscular calves and biceps. She dressed to flatter them. Oh, she felt the eyes, heard the whispers. Why is she wearing a sleeveless mini? She looks like a man. You’d think she’d want to hide that arm flab. But their words had no power. “It’s not flab; it’s muscle,” she sometimes said, then struck a weightlifter pose that left them laughing. “And I must be the most gorgeous man on the planet.”
She found the starfish
in her post-run cool-down. Doubtless, it had been there when she went out, because the inlet only had a strip of sand, except during low tide, and she followed the same route both ways. But she’d been lost in her music on her first pass, pacing herself. This was marathon prep, and she needed to push exactly hard enough on exactly the right days. So she only noticed the beach’s dying occupant on the way home, when her playlist had run out, and she had long since moved past the zenith of her runner’s high. A glance to the ocean, and she knew the sea star had been exposed for some time. That it hadn’t already dried out was a miracle in and of itself.
When she picked it up, Jolene realized it wasn’t dead. The arms flailed to life and warm fluid seeped onto her hand. “Easy there,” she told it. “Take it easy.” A phone search confirmed her opinion. The tide was getting ready to turn. She didn’t want to return the poor thing only to have it sucked back to the brink with the incoming water. “Here, let me help you.”
Marathon prep or no, a quick dip sounded just about like damn nirvana. Nobody would be along to see her at this hour of the morning, particularly not in this scraggly inlet where few good shells ever washed ashore between the two rocky outcrops. She set the starfish down long enough to strip to her skivvies, producing another five-armed scrabble. “Rest a minute. I’ll get you there.” She tucked her shirt and shorts on an overhead rock, the phone and earbuds carefully nestled in their armband atop the pile. “I’ve got time enough before the water gets here. Now, let’s take you home.”
Jolene swam out past the rocks, an awkward, one handed affair made more difficult by the creature’s enthusiasm to escape. “I’m trying to be gentle here,” she reassured it as it coated her with more fluid. “I’m helping you.” She was rewarded with a sticky gush. “I always thought you guys gave off goo slowly.” This one was vomiting everywhere. “Yuck.”
But the job was worth it. The rising sun, rapidly burning off the morning fog, seemed to glint off the waving arms as they sank. She dove joyfully, filled her eyes with stinging saltwater as she followed the starfish’s progress a little way more. It seemed like a cartoon of a star falling from the sky. No, not a fish at all. I get it, Mom. Sea star.
“I’ve got to swim,” she said underwater, as if the thing could hear her. “That beach gets mighty small, mighty fast.”
And sometimes, it vanishes altogether. Jolene suddenly realized her quick dip had been a dangerous idea.
She surfaced nearer to those rocks than she expected. Too near. The tide was coming in fast. “Lucky I didn’t get caught in a rip,” she grumped. “What the hell was I thinking?”
That was when she saw the cave.
From a distance, it had always looked like a shadow among the boulders. But this close, and from this angle, it was not only visible and open, but alight from within. “My God.” Jolene turned her breaststroke away from safety and towards the gap.
“My God,” The bioluminescence inside staggered her. Or would have if she hadn’t been treading water. She spun circles trying to take in the glow reflected off the ceiling and walls. Around her, beneath her, stretching away to invisibility, a thousand sea stars shone green. Thinking of the one she had so recently released, she nodded. “It wasn’t reflecting.”
She had never seen such a thing. Not in summer chasing lightning bugs, not in Mammoth Cave as a girl, when the glowing crickets and fish left her gape-jawed. Those things were glass compared to these diamonds. “No, not diamonds. Emeralds. Extraordinary emeralds.” She burned her eyes again diving to scrutinize them. Her legs forgot to be tired, and she explored, a child in a sea of wonder. Surely no one had ever seen this. Surely she had stumbled into an ecosystem left accidentally undisturbed for millennia.
By the time she recovered her wits, the entrance had long since vanished. The roof had been far overhead then. It was closer now. Too close. “Oh shit. Where’s the door?” In an instant, her amazement turned to terror. Water sucked her first one way than another, waves heaving her body.