Sequel Sunday: Sea Star 2 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.
Read Part 1 first.
“I have to go now!” She dove and dove again looking for the hole between the rocks, but she couldn’t find it. “Help!” She screamed. “I’m drowning! Get me out of here!” But of course no one heard her, no one came.
And she wasn’t drowning. Not exactly. Not yet. Drowning people often couldn’t cry for help. She was still strong, still afloat in spite of her panic. “Cool it. Calm down. Think. What did it look like in here?” Her mind conjured up instead the beach outside. “Useless!” She tried again and this time wondered if her phone and clothes were high enough, if this would be a beach swallower. “In here!” she commanded herself. “What did it look like in here?”
The walls were identical, every row of starfish exactly like the last. With a whimper, she apprehended that if she left this place the way she’d come in, it would be in a diver’s net. Or if she did somehow escape alive, she’d be in trouble with the rough waves, high tide, and sharp rocks. “No!” This time, the panic hit hard, without even a shred of accompanying rationality. She dove wide-eyed and surfaced the same way, throwing herself at the ceiling only to flip over and kick once more, exhaustion consuming her with horrific speed.
She could no longer fight the ripping waves. They didn’t suck or drag her anymore. Now, they flung her against the walls, and it was all she could do to flounder to the surface, gulping while she tried to shield her head when she smacked stone. “Help me,” she sobbed. “Help me, help me, help me.” Still, no one heard her.
Then someone did.
“Easy there. Take it easy.” The voice was barely audible. It seemed like an echo of her own.
She whipped in a circle. “Who said that? Where are you? Please, help me.”
“Easy now, easy,” it repeated. Something brushed the back of her neck and she spun again, scrabbling instinctively against her own skin. “Easy, easy, easy.”
“Where are you? Help me!”
Jolene looked down. The starfish had detached from the walls. They floated upward, seizing her as they passed, encasing her arms, legs, and torso, their weight dragging her like the current. “Please, what are you doing? I’m drowning!” Hallucinating. This is what happens before the end. Brain tricks. “I don’t want to be a starfish forever! I want to live!”
And then her head slammed against the wall.
When she came around, she could barely move. Breathing was possible only in a slow, steady rhythm. It took her an inordinate amount of time to figure out she wasn’t dead, and quite a bit longer than that to wonder why she thought she ought to be.
Water engulfed her, its cacophonous din ricocheting and echoing like thunder. I can only breathe underwater in dreams. And then memory flooded back with the ocean. A wave washed over her face, and her limbs and muscles went wild.
Except they didn’t.
She choked. She cracked her head again thrashing her neck, but her arms and legs didn’t move. Then her mouth was clear, and she gasped and spat, her heaving coughs restricted by tight bonds.
She was paralyzed. No, not paralyzed, trapped. She felt her muscles give and take. But she was bound tightly to the smooth rock. “Please,” she moaned. “Help me.”
“Helping,” whispered a thousand voices.
“Please, I’m not a starfish. I don’t want to be helpless forever!”
Susurrating laughter answered her. “No, no. Not a starfish.”
But what about a sea star? Jolene didn’t dare voice the question.
Another wave flooded over her. This time, she held her breath until it passed.
“Rest,” the voices sighed. “Swim soon, soon, soon. Easy, now. Easy.”
Because she had no other choice, Jolene forced her body into stillness The woozy feeling was wearing off, and her knowledge was catching up to her memory. “I should be heading for hypothermia by now. But I’m not. Oh God, I’m not.” The lightning bugs and cave crickets had all been cold, their light mere illumination. But each sea star emitted heat, and the little bits of warmth collected her in a blanket.
She looked around, carefully this time, and realized she was at the roof of the cavern, held in place not, as she had believed, by a greenish net, but by the starfish coating her body, plastering her with their glowing, emerald sap. When combined with the sheer force of their numbers, it was enough. It held her still. As long as she didn’t fight. Because the balance was delicate, each sea star’s sap really only designed to hold one. They were not transforming her. They were centering her, protecting her until the door became visible once more.
The water seemed to have crested. It repeatedly splashed her face, but it only took her all the way under two more times. She began oozing down the wall, her companions descending with the tide.
Though salt puckered her lips, she was not drowning. Here in the cave, she was not drowning. Her aching head cleared a little more. Assuming she hadn’t brained herself too badly, she would leave under her own steam, not in a diver’s net, after all. “Thank you,” she whispered, trying not to twitch, trying not to sob.
She began pranayama breathing, in and out, deep and filling. After awhile, the whispering voices became a melody. “Easy, now. Easy.” She picked up the refrain “Easy, easy, easy.” Their song mingled with the ocean’s steady thrum until the universe dissolved into pinpricks that coalesced in her soul. Jolene followed, cast her mind inward to infinity and briefly left her body behind, cradled in the arms of the stars.