Devil's Island, страница 1
by Jason Halstead and J. Knight Bybee
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Cover art © 2013 Willsin Rowe
Model Art by Macus Ranum
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Devil's Island is book 1 in the Fallen Angels trilogy - keep an eye out for future books!
Cassidy Hunter drew in a deep breath, trying to steady her nerves. The crowd outside the rental car was bigger than she had both hoped and feared. They were here to congratulate her on her good fortune, and wish her well on her trip.
They were here to pity her.
“Are you okay, sweetie?” her mother asked from the front passenger seat of the car.
Despite the constant pain and agony her body was suffering, Cassidy put on her best face and smiled at her mother. Beverly Hunter had enough to worry about, without her daughter adding any more to it.
“I still can’t believe any of this is happening,” her father said, turning and smiling at her. “It’s almost like a dream come true!”
Cassidy’s smile cracked only slightly. She knew her father didn’t understand how painful his words could be.
“Dennis!” Her mom snapped, slapping her dad’s chest.
“What?” he asked and then realized what he said. “Oh, Cass knows what I mean, don’t you, Cass?”
What she knew was that her parents were dying inside, because of what Cassidy was suffering. Each one was handling the situation differently. Her mom was babying her every step of the way, while her dad tried to pretend everything was normal, and that one day Cassidy Hunter would wake up and be whole again.
Only it can’t happen that way. It can’t. What she had wouldn’t just go away, and despite all the money spent, all the tests ran, and all the embarrassing circumstances that she’d put up with over the last three years, she was still going to die.
Cassidy Hunter had cancer. Not just any cancer, it was stomach, liver, and pancreatic cancer. It had started out like a stomach ache and it spread from there. Metastasized, the doctors called it. Probably because a big word that she'd never heard before didn't sound as scary. What they thought was the flu didn't get any better. She had some good days, but those only made her think she was getting better. It kept her from the hospital. Kept her away from the people that might have saved her if she'd have gone sooner. Instead they waited, afraid to spend the money because her dad had lousy health insurance.
Her birthday was only two months away, and her dad had wanted to wait to do this trip until she finally turned eighteen. The Make A Wish Foundation insisted she do it before she became an adult. Besides, if the doctors were correct, eighteen might as well have been a thousand years away.
The young woman swallowed hard, trying to get rid of the lump that formed in her throat. That lump would go away, unlike the ones growing inside of her. She’d known for a while what was coming, and even though the media and Foundation were all out there for her, she wanted to make this cruise to the Bahamas as happy as she could. She was dying and it wasn't fair, but maybe she could forget, for a few more days, and try to have a good time. If she couldn't remember it, at least she could do it for her parents.
“It’s okay, mom,” she said, trying to relieve her father from her mother’s formidable glare. “It really is a dream come true.”
The smile Beverly turned on her daughter let her know that she knew what Cassidy was doing. What's important is that she appreciated it. Just like she didn't deserve cancer, her parents didn't deserve the burden she'd put on them. Cassidy had to turn away then, before her parents saw the tears forming in her eyes.
“Time to face the crowd,” she mumbled to distract herself from the dark voices whispering in the back of her head.
Her parents got out of the car, but Cassidy had to wait. Her father got the wheelchair out of the trunk, while the media outside snapped one picture after another.
She wasn't anybody special, she didn't deserve the attention. She'd wanted to be a pop star someday. Or maybe a famous actress. Funny how wishing on a star didn't turn out the way she'd hoped.
“Everything will calm down as soon as we’re aboard the ship,” Beverly said as she opened the door and helped her into the wheelchair.
Cassidy did her best to smile and wave as her father wheeled her through the crowd. Despite having lived with her cancer for three years now, she still worried about how her picture would appear in whatever papers or news castings hit the public. Her eyes were sunken, and the blue scarf she wore around her head to hide her baldness didn’t hide what the chemo had done to her.
The next few hours thankfully move by in a blur. They were shown to their special room, wheel chair accessible and outfitted with all the medical devices Cassidy needed. Make A Wish didn't screw around, they wanted to make sure she had a good time. Or maybe it was the cruise line going out of their way to help boost their image. Whatever the case, between the unpacking and checkups she received from the medical staff and ship's staff, they left port before she knew it.
Her mom rushed around, stressing over every little detail, as the massive cruise ship sailed towards the Bahamas. Cassidy watched her check to make sure she had all her meds three times and wanted to laugh at her, but she was too tired. Cassidy was capable of walking, but with all of her meds, and what the cancer did to her, she was too weak to take more than a couple steps on her own. Even if she had, she'd probably have gotten dizzy and fallen over.
“They’re calling everyone out to the deck, sweetie,” Beverly roused her from where she was staring out the window with her mind drifting. “Your father’s already up there, exploring the ship.”
She didn't protest when her mother fixed the IV to the pole on the wheel chair and wheeled her out. It was easier that way. Sure, she could walk, but her mom felt like she was doing something this way. And she was tired. Even taking a deep breath took a lot of work.
Once they reached the deck and Cassidy felt the wind blowing across her skin, she smiled and closed her eyes. The sun warmed her face a moment later, making it tingle. Cassidy opened her eyes and blinked against the brightness of the Caribbean sun. Her mother muttered something about a sunburn and moved her into the shade. Someone spoke over the loudspeaker, letting them know the emergency procedures for this vessel, as well as where all of the amenities that this large vessel boasted of are located.
Afterwards, they met back up with her father for dinner at one of the buffets.
“Mommy, why is she in a wheelchair?” Cassidy heard a small voice ask, while she waited for her mother to bring her a plate of food.
Turning, she saw an older woman desperately trying to hush a little boy of two or three years, and giving her an embarrassed look. Cassidy wanted to smile, but t
Cassidy's mom showed up with a plate full of two different salads, slices of steaming roast beef, and some kind of vegetable medley before her. With what her appetite had become the plate was a feast that would take her the entire seven day cruise to eat. She offered her mom the smile the other woman never received.
“You wouldn’t believe all the food over there, Cass,” her father said, sitting next to her. “I swear I could eat something different for every meal of this cruise and there'd be food I didn't even see yet!”
Cassidy couldn’t help but smile, seeing her father so happy. His luck hadn't been the best but he'd done as much as he could for them. Now with her sickness it didn't seem like he would ever catch a break.
"Dennis!" her mom snapped as he plucked a piece of shredded pork in his mouth. "You don't get a vacation from saying grace!"
He winced and nodded, then reached over to take Cassidy's gaunt hand and bowed his head before saying a simple blessing. Cassidy went along with it even though the words meant nothing to her anymore. Where was God to a girl who wasn't going to experience her own prom? Her first kiss? Her first crush that didn't involve a boy band poster taped to her bedroom wall?
By the time they were done eating, she felt worn out and exhausted. She hated how weak she’d become. She’d always wanted to be a cheerleader, or dance on her high school’s drill team, but her cancer had robbed her of her dreams. Now her vision was shot, her breathing almost always labored, and staying awake for an entire day was nearly beyond her.
“I’ll be right here if you need anything, sweetie,” her mother said as she tucked Cassidy in that night.
“No, Mom,” she protested, still trying to catch her breath from the ordeal of moving onto her bunk. “You never know when you’ll be able to enjoy a night out like this again. Go with dad, and enjoy yourself. I’ll be fine, really.” It took some extra convincing, but finally her parents left her to herself so they could explore the ship and try to have a good time. Cassidy fell asleep before the door shut.
If there was one thing that was a positive to the cancer, it was that when Cassidy slept, she truly slept. Short of waking up to vomit, which was always worst after a treatment, Cassidy generally slept through the night.
When she woke up in the middle of the night, she stared at the odd shapes in her bedroom lit by the displays on her monitors. She didn't feel sick, which confused her. Was it the warm tropical air that had woken her? The next oddity came to her as she clearly saw the clock showing that it was one a.m. in the morning. Her parents weren’t back yet. She was glad they were having a good time, but it didn't help explain why she'd woken up. She tried to roll over and go back to sleep, but soon realized that she was wide awake.
“I don’t feel any pain,” she murmured. Her eyes widened and she marveled at her fingers as she curled them into a fist and then straightened them. “I don’t feel any pain!” she stated again, this time more loudly. Pain had been like a familiar passenger in her body, always present, and always making sure she was aware of it, only going on vacation when she slept or was on the strongest of painkillers.
Not only was there no pain, but she felt good. Hesitantly at first, afraid that this was all a dream, she pushed the blankets away from her body.
When she found she wasn’t winded, she sat up slowly and continued to stare at the world around her. Even as she looked around her room, she couldn’t believe how clearly everything appeared to her. She could make out the threads in the carpet from the light coming in under the door. She couldn’t quite read the signs next to the door, but she could see that they were there.
“Am I already dead?” she asked herself, pinching herself, and flinching from the tiny pain. “Alive, then,” she mumbled, still marveling. What was going on?
One by one, she moved her feet to the floor, then took a deep breath, and for the first time in over two years, she pushed herself to her feet. The heady feeling of finally being able to accomplish something on her own, crashed through her. She had to stifle a yelp of joy.
Her first step felt as though she had performed a minor miracle. When she followed it up with another, and then another, she couldn’t contain her joy anymore. Laughing, she propelled her way to the door. She couldn’t stop there, though, and pushed her way out into the hallway.
Where are mom and dad? She wondered. She had to find them. Something miraculous was happening. Maybe the climate or maybe some of her drugs were working. Maybe the cancer had gone into an impossible remission!
The hallways were empty, most of the passengers already in their bunks. Cassidy tried to remember where the announcer had stated the late-night entertainment would be. She hadn’t planned on watching any of it so she’d mostly ignored the voice from the loudspeakers.
Even as she’d worked her way to the top decks, she still couldn’t get over how wonderful she felt. Had she been cured somehow? The impossible thought wouldn't go away, but she couldn’t understand how she felt so good. Cancer didn’t just disappear.
She took a moment to stand at the railing, looking out over the ocean as the cruise ship moved steadily through the water.
Clouds filled the dark sky and blotted out the stars. The moon was full and enough of its silvery light broke through to create a kaleidoscope of reflected light off the waves.
She realized that she was giggling, and took a few moments to get herself under control. No one was around, but it wouldn’t do to have someone thinking she was crazy. Even if she had to be. It didn't matter, she felt so good she didn’t care what people thought of her.
A movement out in the water caught her eye, and she looked to see what it was. After a few seconds, she gave up the exercise as futile. Even with her restored eyesight, she would never be able to see something in the dark water beneath her.
Cassidy started to turn when a twinkle of starlight on the waves caught her eye. She looked and was certain there was something darker than the surrounding water out there. The water swirled behind it, upset by its passage.
She wondered if it was a whale, but if it was why didn't it come to the surface to breathe?
For a good three minutes she watched the thing swimming out there. She had the uncanny feeling that the creature was aware of her. She gasped when it turned sharply and headed straight for the boat.
Turn, she silently urged the creature, not wanting it to hurt itself against the side of the cruise ship. It swam on, heedless of her wishes.
When the shadow was maybe fifty yards out, it melted back into the surrounding water.
“What are you doing out here?” a masculine voice asked, making her jump.
Cassidy turned, and saw one of the Make A Wish Foundation workers approaching her.
“I woke up and felt great,” she said, still surprised at how good she truly felt.
“Where are your parents?” he asked next. Cassidy noticed a weird gleam in his eyes, but dismissed it. He must be as happy as she was about her newfound health.
“I came up looking for them. Have you ever heard of someone suddenly waking up, and feeling better? I wonder if it has something to do with this climate.” Cassidy turned back to the railing, breathing in the salty air. If it was truly making her feel better, then she wanted all she could get.
“These things happen for a reason,” he said as he came up to stand next to her. He offered her a smile and added, “And sometimes they need a little help."
Cassidy gasped as the man's hand clamped around the back of her neck. It felt like a steel vice squeezing her and left her too stunned to do anything. His other hand grabbed the back of her pants and lifted. She yelped but it was a breathy squeal that was barely loud enough for her to hear, let alone another
Before she could draw in breath and try again she felt her stomach rise into her chest. She flailed, realizing she was free, and then saw the dark waves rushing towards her. She hit the water hard, knocking her senseless.
The shock of the warm water rushing into her mouth and nose spurred her into action. She thrashed in the water and struggled to reach the surface. Her lungs burned for want of the air she hadn't breathed in before she fell in. Her heart crashed against her ribs as she kicked. Fear gave her strength that she didn’t know she had. Her fingertips broke through the water into open air.
New hope surged through her. She was going to make it! There were cameras everywhere, surely someone would have seen what happened to her and stop the ship. She gasped in air, the need to breathe more important than the burning in her throat and chest from the saltwater.
The vessel towered above her as it moved, silhouetted by what moonlight broke through the cloud cover. Any minute now, she begged with all her heart, the ship would stop and they'd start searching the water.
She pulled in another deep breath so she could yell for help. The burning in her sinuses and the ache in her chest wouldn't be denied any longer. Instead of a shout she let out a hoarse cough. She gagged and vomited up seawater that she'd swallowed. She thrashed, struggling to keep her head above the water. Hot tears burned their way down her cheeks. She'd thought the ocean was supposed to be easier to float in, but she could barely tread water between hiccups and sobs. The cruise ship slipped away, threatening to become just another shadow in the darkness.
I have to live, she told herself. I’m not going to get better, only to drown out in the middle of the ocean!
She couldn’t hear anything over the sound of the receding boat. She waved, trying to get anyone’s attention. Her voice was still weak, but she put all of her fear behind it, afraid it wouldn’t be enough to be heard over the ships engines. A light turned on in a room. Was somebody awake? Were they on their balcony? Did they see her?
Cassidy kicked and opened her mouth to yell when something grabbed her foot. She panicked and froze. Whatever had her was hard and sharp. It cut through the sensitive skin on her bare feet. Before she could fight her paralysis it yanked her beneath the waves.
Her lungs burned as more saltwater filled them. She tried to cough it back up but without air to replace the water she only made herself convulse in agony. She sagged as whatever held her dragged her deeper and deeper. The pressure continued to build, pushing against her. She was going to drown. Maybe she already had? She wanted to fight but she was so tired.
The water was warmer than she remembered. It felt good. She was floating and so sleepy. All she had to do was just let go and fall back. She'd be caught by a bed of a pillows. Or maybe clouds. Was this what heaven was like?