Lance Lyons stared out at the tranquil blue waters of the ocean, happy to be living his dreams. He relaxed on the deck of his yacht, the Siren's Song, doing absolutely nothing and loving it. Lance craved excitement, but he craved tranquility just as much.
At twenty-five, he had already squeezed in a lifetime of adventures. Every summer it was something new. He had climbed Everest, flown over the Atlantic in a plane he had built himself, gone on safari in Africa, and bicycled from Los Angeles to New York. He was an experienced mountain climber, skydiver, sailor, and pilot.
This adventure had a much more relaxed atmosphere than many of his others. While he had a planned route, for the most part he just went where the wind took him. He loved the whiteness of the billowing sails, the gentle rocking of the ship on the waves, and the smell of salt in the air.
His sister Cammy, ten years his junior, emerged from below, then came and sat down by him with a grin on her face. He enjoyed seeing her smile; there had been a time when he had wondered if he would ever see it again. With her sandy brown hair now at shoulder length, a trim figure, and a good color to her face, one would never suspect that a year ago she had been going through chemotherapy for cancer.
Those had been rough times. There were two brothers in their family between Lance and Cammy, one starting graduate school and the other about to go off to college. But perhaps because she was the baby of the family, and perhaps because she was his only sister, he felt a special closeness to her, a kind of protectiveness that broke his heart when he found out he might lose her. When they first discovered she had cancer, he had canceled his plans to swim the English Channel and come home immediately. Although he could do nothing for her, he wanted to spend as much time with her as possible, in case she didn't make it through the ordeal.
To give her something to hope for, he had promised to take her sailing around the world with him when she got better. It was partly a joke; such a trip could take a couple of years, and she had just barely started high school. When he saw her eyes light up with excitement at the idea, though, he decided to follow through with it. That trip would have to wait until after she graduated, but to give her something to look forward to, he agreed to take her on a shorter trip just for the summer. Every time he visited her in the hospital, he brought maps and charts to plot their route, as well as books on sailing. He had taught her as much as he could without a hands-on approach, because although the yacht could be crewed by a single person, it was always good to have an extra hand to help out. As she had learned about operating the ship and they had discussed the plans, he could see the delight in her face. He liked to think that that positive mental state helped to speed the recovery.
The treatment worked, and she was taken off chemotherapy last August. Her doctor insisted that she wait at least six months before taking the trip, just to be sure that the cancer didn't come back. She had to be home-schooled for the first semester of the new year because she was still too weak to stay out of the house all day, and then in January she returned to public school. Lance promised her they would go sailing the day after school ended, and he kept his word. They began their trip in early June, and were now two months out. They had already visited several islands off the beaten track that he had read about as underrated vacation destinations, and had had a lot of fun there. They spent most of their time on the yacht though, just lazily wandering around the Pacific.
Cammy had turned out to be an invaluable asset. Her book-learning had helped her to pick up on the yacht's operation quite rapidly, and she was well on her way to becoming an experienced sailor. At first she had to be coached a little when he gave her an order (usually voiced as a request; he couldn't quite bring himself to order her around), but lately she had been following his commands needing an explanation, and she sometimes even took the initiative when she saw something that needed to be done.
As he gazed at Cammy, he realized just how beautiful his little sister was, especially when she smiled. She hadn't stopped smiling ever since they left port that first day, and it made Lance feel good to know that he was the cause of it.
"You're in a good mood today," he told her.
"I'm in a good mood every day. I love this. Thank you so much for taking me on this trip."
"It's worth it just to see your smile," he teased.
Cammy knew how to tease right back. "Are you flirting with me?" she asked with a grin.
"No, I save my flirting for your friend Autumn," he replied. Suddenly, he froze as he saw another shape in the doorway leading below. A girl stood there, her eyes wide and a frightened look on her face. She opened her mouth as if to say something, then suddenly turned around and bolted down the stairs.
"Oops," Cammy said for him.
That pretty much told it all. Autumn Kent was Cammy's best friend. Cammy had begged Lance to let her come along on this trip too, and he immediately agreed, partly to thank the girl for her loyalty to his sister through the terrible ordeal. Although Autumn was a year younger than Cammy, his sister had befriended the shy brunette out of pity because she didn't have any other friends. It wasn't that there was anything physically or mentally wrong with her; she was rather attractive and did well in school in fact. She just had no self-confidence around people.
The friendship had turned out to be a good thing for Cammy. Maybe because Autumn had no other friends and would otherwise feel lonely, she visited Cammy in the hospital every day after school. Lance had seen just how much this helped Cammy's morale, and ever since then he had a soft spot in his heart for the girl. That was why he had agreed to let her come along on the trip.
It was only afterward that he had learned that she had a crush on him. If he had known before, he wouldn't have agreed to take her along, considering how awkward it would be with just the three of them on the yacht. But Lance couldn't just dash her hopes after saying she could come along, so he was stuck with her.
It wasn't that he didn't like her company. Sure, she was a little hard to talk to because she tended to blush every time he said hi to her. But on those rare occasions when she actually came out of her shell, she was sweet and kind and fun to be around.
Especially after Cammy had told him about Autumn's crush, Lance tried to be especially nice to her. He never teased her like he did his sister; if he ever did, Autumn would probably pass out. But he tried to be cheerful and friendly, hoping to give her at least a little self-confidence. It wasn't to give her any false hopes; any kind of relationship between them was obviously impossible. He just wanted her to learn to be comfortable talking with the opposite sex, especially those she had a romantic interest in. It would help her later when she found a nice young man her own age to get involved with. It was working, albeit slowly. The first day of the trip she couldn't even look him in the eyes, but yesterday she had even said hi to him first.
This trip was just what she needed. Not only would she start to gain a broader view of the world, but her peers at school would no doubt ask her about it when she got back to school in the fall, which would probably help to tear down some of those barriers she had erected between everyone else and herself. At least, he hoped it would work out that way.
Of course, Lance would be with her the whole trip so that she didn't have to worry about culture shock so much. He had been all over the world after all, so there weren't too many places on the globe where he didn't feel comfortable. Autumn and Cammy would get to experience a variety of different cultures without having to worry about anything. He would take care of them.
"Maybe I should go apologize to Autumn," Lance told Cammy.
"Maybe you shouldn't," Cammy replied. "You're just going to end up embarrassing her even more."
"Yeah, you're probably right," he shrugged. "Why don't you go apologize for me later?"
"I will. Thanks for being so sweet, Lance," she smiled at him. She leaned in and gave him a kiss on the cheek. "Anyway, could you help me with my homework?"
That was part of the agreement that she had made with their parents to get their permission to come on this trip. She had to study every day, to catch up from the months she had missed at school. Lance was no professor, but he had graduated from college, so at least he was educated enough to help her now and then. Cammy was a bright girl, and more often than not if she didn't know the answer to the questions on her homework, he didn't know it either. They always managed to figure it out in the end, though.
As they sat and worked on Cammy's homework, Lance let himself enjoy the afternoon. While this wasn't exactly his idea of a fun activity, he had learned not to take his time with his little sister for granted. He loved to just sit here and talk with her, just to see her alive and well and most importantly, happy.
Autumn joined them an hour later, after spending probably the whole time working up the courage to return to the deck. Lance wanted to apologize to her, but decided it was probably better just to pretend it never happened.
"Hi Autumn," he said cheerfully.
"Hi Lance," she replied, staring at the floor.
"Have you come to join our little study group? You don't have to if you don't want to; I know teenagers hate to spend their summers in school."
"No, that's all right," she said. "I don't mind studying with Cammy."
She sat down next to her friend, and together the three of them worked through the sample questions in the book. Lance and Cammy both made a special effort to ask Autumn questions directly, because if they didn't she had a tendency to just sit there in silence. There was nothing wrong with silence; in Lance's opinion, most people could do with a little more quiet reflection in their lives. In Autumn's case though, anything to get her talking was a good thing.
She really was a pretty girl. She had long, straight brown hair that she liked to wear tied back in a ponytail. Her skin, normally a little pale, had taken on a healthy tan in the months at sea, giving her an almost Polynesian appearance, though as far as he knew she had no Polynesian ancestry at all. On the islands they had stopped at, she could have passed for one of the natives. Her most striking features, though, were her eyes. It was too bad she rarely looked at him, because she had the most beautiful brown-green eyes, a little on the large side with long lashes. With a slender figure to match her pretty face, there was really no need at all for her to be so shy. Probably half the boys at her school would jump at the chance to go out with her.
It was really too bad she had a thing for a guy eleven years older than her. More than once Lance had caught himself wishing he were her age. He was no pedophile, but he could certainly recognize the beauty of such a girl.
He knew what it was that she saw in him. It wasn't the first time a girl had fallen for the dashing, young, adventurous type. He led an exciting life, there was no question of that. He wondered, though, why excitement and romance often seemed like they should go together. In his case, they seemed to push each other apart; his time was usually so filled up with adventures that he really didn't have time for a serious relationship with a woman. It was too bad that now that he had time to just relax and enjoy himself, there were only two women around, one of whom was related to him and both of whom were too young for him.
He wasn't going to let that bother him. He was certainly not going to start up a romantic relationship with Autumn. That didn't mean he couldn't enjoy her beauty or her company though.
He glanced up and peered into the distance ahead of them. A few clouds on the horizon meant that they were likely in for a spell of bad weather. A little wind and rain didn't worry him; he actually found the sound of rain pattering on the roof, or in this case the deck, tranquil and soothing. On the other hand, it meant that the seas would probably be choppy all night. He would make sure to warn the girls to take some Dramamine before going to bed.
After another hour of homework, they decided to call it quits for the day. The girls disappeared downstairs to do whatever it was that girls did, while Lance set to work lowering the sails. He probably had time to do it after dinner before the storm hit them, but he didn't want to cut it close. He had no idea how strong of a storm they were in for, and he didn't relish the thought of trying to take down the sails in the middle of it. They were in no real hurry, so a couple of extra hours without wind power wouldn't make a difference.
At dinner that night in the saloon, Cammy was her usual bubbly and cheerful self, but Autumn stared at the table and ate in silence. Meal times had been awkward from the very first day; Autumn rarely spoke, and although Cammy and Lance tried to engage her in the conversation, she usually just answered in single words, not even raising her eyes from her plate. Cammy had assured Lance that Autumn wasn't trying to be rude or didn't enjoy the company. The girl was just shy.
By the time they finished dinner, there was a noticeable change in the sea. The ship rocked back and forth gently but firmly on the swells. They were likely in for a rough night. So far they had avoided most bad weather, but August was prime storm season. As far as he knew, there weren't any hurricanes or even major storms in the area, so this was probably just a localized weather pattern. It probably wouldn't even more than a few hours.
He mentioned that to the girls, making it sound like just an off-hand comment. It wouldn't do to have them getting scared in the middle of the night, but he wanted them to know what they were in for. They all took a dose of seasickness medicine after dinner.
The girls decided to go to bed early that night. Last night the three of them had stayed up on deck watching the sun go down and the stars come out, and then remained there until the early hours of the morning. Out here in the middle of the Pacific with the full moon shining down on them and shooting stars streaking across the sky, it felt like a completely different world from the hustle and bustle of the city. There was a certain peace and tranquility about knowing that they were probably hundreds of miles from any other human beings, alone with just the sea and the night sky.
Of course, they couldn't stay out every night watching the stars, so they had to make up for their lost sleep tonight, especially since there would be no stars or moon out to watch. It was Autumn's turn to wash the dishes, but she seemed particularly sleepy, so he didn't have the heart to make her stay up. He offered to trade her turns, and she answered him with a one-word thanks, then the two girls headed off to bed.
He really had to do something about Autumn, he decided. He had thought that a few months at sea with her would break her out of her shell, but she hadn't made much progress. He hated to see a nice girl like that feeling uncomfortable all the time.
He finished washing up the dishes, then headed down the hall to the girls' cabin. Despite the fact that the Siren's Song was on the small end of the scale for a cruising yacht, it had three cabins. He had filled one of the cabins with food storage for the long voyage, which meant the girls had to bunk in together. They didn't mind at all; in fact, they seemed to prefer it that way.
He knocked on the door. Cammy answered it. Both girls were in their pajamas, and Autumn lay under the covers of her bunk. There wasn't a lot of room in there, just enough for two bunks, a closet, and a desk. Still, he hadn't heard a word of complaint from the girls in their whole time at sea.
"Just checking to see if there's anything else you girls need before I turn in," he said.
"We're fine," Cammy replied. "Thanks for checking on us, though."
"Autumn?" asked Lance.
"I'm okay," she mumbled.
"Okay. Good night." He grabbed the door handle and began to close the door.
"Lance?" said Autumn. He immediately stopped and poked his head in the room again. The girl was actually looking him in the eyes, something she rarely did.
"Yes, Autumn?" he smiled.
She turned away. "Nothing," she said.
Cammy shrugged and gave him an apologetic look. Well, at least Autumn was trying. Maybe in another three months she would work up the courage to engage in a conversation with him. He closed the door and turned away.
"Come on, Autumn," he heard Cammy's exasperated voice saying from behind the door.
"I'm sorry," Autumn replied.
"Look, it's not like you're asking him to marry you. Just tell him you appreciate him taking you on this trip. Is that so hard?"
"I know. I just freeze up when I'm around him."
"Look, there's no need to be scared of him. Lance is the nicest guy in the whole world. And I'm not just saying that because he's my big brother."
"I'll tell him tomorrow."
"You've been saying that for three weeks now."
Lance smiled, amused at the exchange. It wasn't polite to eavesdrop though, so he left them there and made his way forward to the helm to await the storm.
Autumn really was a sweet girl; it was too bad she that lacked confidence. He wished there was something he could do to help her out of her shell. Unfortunately, anything he did would probably have just the opposite reaction. The best plan was to do nothing, and just let it happen naturally.
He gazed out into the growing darkness at the menacing clouds that rapidly approached. He knew he would be spending a rough night at the helm. Hopefully the storm would pass in a couple of hours, then he could get some sleep. With Cammy's inexperience, he wouldn't dare have her take a shift at the helm tonight.
The storm broke about an hour later. It was a little more severe than he had anticipated, with the sound of wind howling and rain pattering on the roof above him. The ship rocked back and forth, constantly threatening to knock him from his feet. It was a good thing he had taken the Dramamine, because otherwise he would be too ill to work.
Lance wasn't too worried; he had been in storms like this before. The great swells surrounding them looked frightening, but the only effect they had on the yacht was to tilt it back and forth. No doubt the girls and he would spend all morning tomorrow straightening out clothes in the closets and pots and pans in the kitchen that were right now being thrown into disarray, but he didn't mind a little hard work.
As the hours passed and the storm remained in full force, he began to grow just a little concerned. It wasn't that he was afraid it might sink the ship; it was more that he wasn't getting any sleep. With no one to take over for him, sleep deprivation and exhaustion began to take their toll on him. Now he cursed himself for not taking a nap earlier in the afternoon. He could call Cammy and have her brew him up a pot of strong coffee, but decided it was better to just let the girls sleep. No sense waking them unless there was an emergency; they might not be able to get back to sleep.
There was one good thing about the rocking of the ship; it covered up the spinning of the room due to his sleep deprivation. When he glanced at the clock and saw that it was three in the morning, he realized that this storm had already lasted far longer than he had anticipated, and he was practically asleep on his feet.
A less experienced sailor might start to panic right about now, but Lance didn't let it bother him. Even if he fell asleep, the chance of something too bad happening was pretty slim. Tomorrow he would check all the rigging and look for any damage to the Siren's Song, but it wasn't like there was a lot to hit out here in the vast expanse of the Pacific Ocean.
As if to mock his overconfidence, at the very moment that he was thinking that, a tremendous crash shook the yacht from bow to stern. This time he actually did fall from his feet. From downstairs and down the hall he heard a scream, followed by the sound of rushing water. Lance sat up dizzily, shocked to realize that the motion of the ship had stopped. Yet the ship still listed to one side; it just didn't move.
He struggled to his feet and reached for the helm, but as he turned the wheel, nothing happened. There could be only one explanation. They had run aground.
But there are no islands around here! he thought. How could they have run aground?
Just then, he heard Cammy ascending the stairs from below. Her face appeared in the entryway, pale with fear.
"Lance," she said, trembling with fright. "There's... there's water..."
Water? That didn't sound good. Seeing he could do no good at the helm, he followed her down the stairs into the hall.
There was indeed water in the hall, collecting toward the bow where it was already a couple of feet deep. That alarmed him. Even if they were taking on water, they shouldn't be sinking that quickly. Unless the damage was worse than he thought. Even as he waded through it toward the cabins, he could see it growing deeper by the second.
Now it was time to panic. If the Siren's Song was sinking, they needed to get off of it, and now!
"Where's Autumn?" he asked his sister.
"Still in our room. She's too scared even to get out of bed."
"I'll go get her," he told her. "You get to the liferaft."
"The liferaft?" asked Cammy. "In the middle of a storm?"
"We hit something, which means the ocean's not that deep here, which means there's land nearby. I'll meet you in the raft. Now go!" He shoved her toward the stairs up to the deck, following her just as far as the girls' cabin.
There was no time for politeness, so he threw open the door. Autumn sat in her bunk, a look of terror on her face and her blankets clutched in her white knuckles. Lance hurried over to her and grabbed her hand. "We've got to get out of here," he told her firmly. "The ship's sinking."
"Sinking?" she asked, staring at him with fear. "I..."
"No time to discuss it. Cammy's getting the liferaft ready for us. Now come on!"
Another crash knocked him from his feet, and Autumn tumbled out of her bunk, landing on top of him. For a moment, they both went under water, and Lance was surprised to find it already deep enough to submerge them. He hurriedly jumped to his feet, pulling Autumn up with him. The ship lurched further to the side, and this time he kept his balance only because his back thudded against the wall of the cabin.
Autumn clung to him tightly, and he wrapped a reassuring arm around her. He was every bit as scared as she was, but he couldn't afford to panic. Instead, he grabbed her hand and pulled her toward the hall.
With the water already up to their knees and the tilting of the ship, they found it hard to walk. It felt like it took them minutes to move even a couple of feet, all the time with the water rising. Lance realized in horror that although they were moving toward the shallower end, the rising of the water was outstripping their progress. At this rate, the stairs would be underwater by the time they reached it.
Already he could see streams of water flowing down the steps, though in surges rather than constantly. That meant waves were reaching the deck. He hoped Cammy had made it safely to the raft. She knew how to inflate it (there wasn't much of a trick to it; just pull the cord), but there were still a thousand things that could go wrong. She might even have to launch it before they arrived up on deck in order to save herself. If she did, he couldn't fault her for it; he would rather have one of them survive than all three of them drown.
They were just about to the stairs when a wave broke over the hatch and a surging wall of foam rushed toward them. Lance didn't even have time to react before it hit them, knocking him from his feet. His head went under the surface and he felt himself being dragged back down the hall. He reached out to try to grab something, anything, to halt his progress, but his fingers merely scraped against the smooth wall.
Then Autumn's hand closed around his, and he stopped moving. With strength that he didn't know she possessed, she pulled him up toward her. His head broke the surface again, and a moment later he managed to scramble to his feet. Autumn had managed to clutch the railing on the stairwell with one of her hands to keep from being swept away like Lance nearly was.
"Thanks," he told her, then the two of them rushed up the stairs into the blinding wind and rain of the storm. As he suspected, the sea already covered part of the deck. Each wave poured more and more water down the stairs into the hall that they had just escaped. By now the angle of the ship was almost thirty degrees, though he couldn't see what caused it to tilt so. He stared around, trying to find Cammy, but she was nowhere to be found. Neither was the raft.
Maybe she had given up on them. Maybe in her panic she had launched it to save herself. Or more likely, the waves had carried it, and her, away. Whatever the situation, Autumn and Lance were stuck here.
"Where is she?" Autumn asked with tears in her eyes. Lance glanced over at her with a look of pity. There was nothing he could say to comfort her, no hope he could give her. The two of them were fated to die here.
Ironically, the certainty of death had a kind of calming effect on both of them. The possibility of survival, no matter how remote, had a tendency to produce action through fear. But now, standing on the deck of the rapidly sinking ship, they knew that nothing they could do would change their fate. The great motivating emotion of fear was no longer needed, so it fled from them both. Lance took Autumn in his arms and held her to him, both of them seeking the only comfort they could in the darkness.
When a twelve-foot wave crashed down on them and dragged them into the sea, it was almost a relief that it was finally over.