Chapter 1 1
RILEY GAZED OUT OVER THE seemingly endless ocean. The water was calm as their sailboat, the Event Horizon, cut smoothly across the surface. Above them the sky was cloudless and the kind of blue she never saw at home. She inhaled the clean, salty air and felt a sense of peace wash over her. This was the start of their second week out on the boat with one more week facing them.
“Lunch!” Her father appeared at the hatch that led down to the lower deck.
“Coming.” Riley walked confidently along the smooth deck and made it to the hatch. She paused long enough to call to her aunt, who was at the helm. “Aunt Mary, I’ll eat quickly and then take over, if you like.”
“Thanks, Riley. Go enjoy yourself.”
When she reached the small galley, her father said, “I don’t know where your cousin is.”
“He’s probably in his cupboard.”
“Cabin,” her father corrected. “Go get him before the food gets cold.”
Riley nodded and walked toward the back of the boat where the cabins were. She liked to tease her father and call them cupboards because that was about the size of them. She knocked on Alfie’s door but heard no response. “Alfie, it’s lunch.”
Riley walked down to her own cabin and opened the door. There she saw her cousin sitting on her bunk, reading her diary.
“What are you doing in here, Creep? Give that back!”
Riley rushed at her cousin as he held her diary aloft. His teasing smile broadened farther as he climbed on her bunk and held the book high above her head.
“Alfie, give it back!”
“Oh, poor little Shorty isn’t having any fun.…” He opened the diary to her last entry and started to read aloud. “I hate my life. I hate this boat and I hate the ocean. I just want to go home and be with my friends.…”
Riley snatched at her diary, but Alfie kept pulling it away and taunting her with it. Finally, her frustrations got the better of her, and she hauled back and punched her cousin in the stomach as hard as she could.
Alfie dropped the diary, collapsing onto the bunk, gasping for breath.
Just as Riley picked the book up, her father burst into her cabin. “What’s going on in here?” When he saw Alfie lying on Riley’s bunk, he rushed over. “What happened? Alfie, what’s wrong?”
Her cousin’s face was red as he tried to regain his breath. He pointed a shaking finger at Riley. “Sh-she p-punched me in the stomach.”
Her father’s eyes flashed to her. “Is that true?”
“He started it!” Riley cried. “Dad, he came in here and stole my diary. He was reading it and everything!”
Her father helped Alfie sit up on the bunk and lower his head between his knees to ease the pain. Then his ice-blue eyes landed on her. “We don’t hit people—ever. Do you hear me?”
“But, Dad…,” Riley cried.
“No buts,” he spat. “Your mother and I raised you better than that. Now, I want you to apologize to your cousin.”
“What? That’s not fair! He snuck in here and went through my stuff. Why should I apologize?”
“It doesn’t matter what he did. You don’t hit people! Apologize to Alfie.”
Riley looked from her father to her despicable cousin and back to her father again. The expression on her dad’s face said he wasn’t going to back down.
Riley gritted her teeth. “Okay, I’m sorry.…” She turned and ran out of her cabin and up the small steps to the upper deck, muttering, “I’m sorry I didn’t push you off the boat…!”
Bitter tears of frustration were stinging her eyes as she sat down at the pointed front end of the boat with her legs dangling over the side. This was as far away from the others as she could get, but it wasn’t far enough.
“You okay up there, Riley?” Mary called.
Riley had her back to her aunt and didn’t want to answer. She didn’t want Mary to see her tears.
“Riley?” Mary called.
“I’m fine!” Riley snapped. But she wasn’t fine. She wanted to go home. Instead she was trapped on the boat for another two weeks with her father, aunt, and cousin.
This was meant to be a family-bonding trip, since she hadn’t seen her relatives in over a year. She loved her aunt Mary very much but hated Alfie. He was twelve, making him just a year younger than her. But he was already taller and stronger and took every opportunity to prove it.
When the trip was first announced, Riley thought her mother and brother, Danny, would be going. But her mother couldn’t leave her job at the hospital. She was a doctor with a lot of patients that needed her. Danny didn’t want to go. At sixteen, he was given the choice. Riley wasn’t. So instead of spending her spring break at home with her friends, she had to go on this stupid trip.
Aunt Mary was recently divorced and going through a hard time with Alfie. The five-week voyage around the Bahamas was meant to clear things up between them. Maybe it was working for Mary, but being stuck on the sailboat with Alfie was ruining Riley’s life.
From the moment they left their home in Denver, Colorado, Riley had a bad feeling about the trip. By the time they’d flown to Miami, Florida, and made it to the port and their sailboat, her premonition came true.
The first thing Alfie did when he saw her was pat her on the head and call her Shorty. Since then, the teasing had been nonstop—but only when her father or aunt weren’t around.
Gazing into crystal clear ocean, Riley wondered how things could get any worse. As tears trickled down her cheeks, she saw the sunlight glinting off something reflective in the water. It was there, and then it wasn’t. She watched the spot, and again the sun caught the silvery sparkle of fish scales. It was a tail. A long one. As the fish moved, Riley gasped. The silver tail trailed up to what looked like a torso with stubby arms and a round head covered in shaggy dark hair. As she watched, the head turned. The face was gray like the body, with two holes where a nose should be and large deep-set eyes that were as black as night. When it opened its mouth, it revealed a row of sharp, pointed teeth.
Riley was too stunned to scream. She pulled her legs in and moved back from the edge. A moment later, the creature darted down into the depth.
Riley jumped at her father’s voice. Her heart was pounding ferociously in her chest, and she opened her mouth to tell him what had just happened. But then she looked back at the water and saw only the ocean. Had the creature been real? What was it? Some kind of mermaid? If it was a mermaid, it wasn’t anything like the ones she’d read about in books. This was a terrifying monster. Or worse, maybe it wasn’t there at all.
Riley was still shaking as she looked from the water to her father and back to the water again. Would he believe her if she told him? Considering he spent most of his life in water as a marine biologist, she doubted it.
“If you’re thinking about going for a swim before lunch, forget it. That water looks pretty, but don’t be fooled, it’s cold and deep.”
Did her father think she would actually go into the water with that sharp-toothed monster swimming around? “I—I wasn’t going to,” she stammered.
He sat down on the deck beside her and scooted up to the edge until his legs were dangling over the side.
“Bring your legs in, Dad,” Riley warned. She may have been angry with him, but there was no way she’d let him endanger himself if that creature was still around.
“It’s fine,” he said. “I won’t fall in.”
“What about being pulled in?” Riley said.
He smiled at her and shook his head. “I doubt anything out there would be interested in me.”
“Don’t be too sure,” Riley warned.
He gazed into the water and sighed heavily, but then said nothing. After what seemed an eternity of silence, he said, “Did I ever tell you that humpbacks are the only whales that sing a long, complicated song that they change as they move around the world? And a male’s song can be heard for hundreds of miles?”
Riley did know that because her father had told her a million times before. And when he wasn’t telling her, he was listening to whale songs at full volume in his study. That’s when he was home and not on some expedition. As a marine biologist, his specialty was cetaceans and he was especially obsessed with humpbacks. She figured that was why he wanted to go on this trip. Yes, for Mary and Alfie, but also to study the humpbacks during their spring migration from the Caribbean to far up north. What she really resented was her father dragging her along with him. Whales were his thing, not hers.
He continued, “Also, humpbacks are—”
“Dad, enough about the stupid whales,” Riley said. “I know you love them and the ocean and all that, but I don’t. To me, they’re just big stinky fish.”
Her father gasped. “Whales are not fish!”
“I know,” Riley sighed tiredly. “They’re mammals, just like us.” She turned and saw the hurt her comments had caused shining in his eyes. “Dad, I’m sorry. I just don’t understand why you like them so much. They’re kinda pretty if you’re into barnacles and stuff like that. But you spend more time on the ocean with your whales than at home with us.”
He looked away and stared into the deep blue waters. Finally, he said, “You’re right. I’m sorry. It was unfair of me to bring you on this research trip. But since I spend so much time away from home, I just thought it would be extra special for you and me to spend some time together.”
“But we’re not spending time together,” Riley said. “You’re always on deck with your binoculars looking for whales or you’re photographing them or writing notes about them. Aunt Mary is always busy steering the boat—that leaves me stuck with Alfie. Dad, he hates me and he’s doing everything he can to annoy me. You don’t see it because he stops when you’re around. Even today, you only noticed when I hit him and not before when it was him tormenting me.”
He was still staring into the water but nodding his head. “I’ll talk to him.”
“Why bother? He’s not going to stop no matter what you say. He’s a spoiled brat, and Mary is letting him get away with everything.”
“I know,” he agreed. “That’s why Mary asked to go on this trip. She’s hoping I might be a good influence on him.…” He chuckled softly. “But you’re right. I haven’t been much of a role model for him.” He turned and looked at her. “Or you.”
It was Riley’s turn to gaze into the ocean.
“So when did you start keeping a diary?”
Riley shrugged. “Mom gave it to me for this trip. She said writing things down on paper is different than putting them on my phone or laptop. She said a diary should be about experiences and my personal feelings—just for me to write and read.”
“Is that what it is?”
Riley nodded. “Yeah, I guess it kinda is. I write down where we’ve been, what I’ve seen, and what I’m feeling—even if what I am feeling is anger at Alfie.”
“So when you caught him reading it…”
“I lost it and hit him—just as hard as I could.”
“How did that make you feel?” he asked.
Riley shrugged. “I guess it was good at first because he felt just as bad as I did. But then I started to feel guilty because I’d really hurt him.”
“So no more hitting?”
“No more hitting…,” Riley agreed. “But I won’t make any promises about kicking or maybe biting!”
He smiled at her. “Good enough.”
There was another long period of silence, but this time it was a good silence. It was the silence of being comfortable and not angry anymore. Riley pulled out her cell phone from her pocket, but there was still no signal.
“We’re too far out,” her dad said.
“I know, I just keep checking anyway.”
He laughed. “Your mom said it’d be a nightmare getting you off that thing.”
“I’m not on it all the time,” Riley said defensively.
“No, just most of it,” he teased. “Even when there isn’t a signal.”
“Well, I like to stay current.”
“Current?” he laughed. “You mean keeping track of what your friends are saying on that Facie… thingy?”
“Facebook,” Riley said. “I don’t use it. I was hoping to look up more about the Bermuda Triangle and the creatures that live in it. You know, like… mermaids?”
Riley nodded. “My friend Lisa says that when boats or planes go into the Bermuda Triangle, they see really weird things and sometimes they even disappear completely. She says aliens live in there and destroy ships.
“When I told her where we were going, she said to be careful and not go into the Bermuda Triangle. I wanted to look it up to see how far away from it we are.”
He chuckled again and shook his head. “Well, honey, I hate to tell you this, but technically speaking, we’ve been in the Bermuda Triangle for most of this trip.” He pointed out over the water. “It spans from Miami down to Puerto Rico and over to Bermuda. But you don’t have to worry. In all the times I’ve been in here, I haven’t seen anything unusual at all—including mermaids or aliens.”
Riley’s eyes went big and she gasped. “We’re in the Bermuda Triangle? Really?”
“That explains it.”
“Just before you came on deck, I saw something weird in the water, right here off the bow. It might have been a mermaid, but not a nice-looking one.”
Her father started to laugh. “Oh, so you only like nice mermaids?”
“Dad, I’m serious. I swear I saw something in the water right before you arrived. It had a long silver tail, a gray body, and a head with big black eyes and two slits for a nose. Its mouth was full of sharp teeth. It looked right at me.”
He frowned. “From what you describe, it could have been a barracuda. They have a nasty mouth full of teeth and can look very threatening. Though there aren’t many cases of attacks on human. Believe me, we are more dangerous to them than they are to us.”
“No Dad, it wasn’t a fish. It was a—a…”
Her father shook his head. “Riley, you’re too old to believe in mermaids. If they existed, with all the time I’ve spent in water, I’m sure I would have seen one by now. Trust me, there are a lot of strange creatures out there, but mermaids aren’t one of them.”
Riley looked back at the water. She had seen something there and it had seen her.
Her father tapped her on the end of her nose. “Now, how about you and I go into the galley and have some lunch?” He winked. “Though I don’t think Alfie will be hungry for a while.”
Riley started to get up. “I guess I should go say sorry again.”
“Maybe,” he agreed. “But not for a while yet—let him think about what he’s done and your response to it. I’ve sent him to his cabin for the rest of the day as punishment for going through your things. So the rest of the day is for you and me.”
“And the humpbacks,” Riley added.
He rose up beside her. “Well, maybe a few humpbacks—or mermaids, if we’re lucky.”