Heart of the Storm

Heart of the Storm

by Michael Buckley

Paperback(Reprint)

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Product Details

ISBN-13: 9781328742056
Publisher: Houghton Mifflin Harcourt
Publication date: 02/06/2018
Series: Undertow Trilogy Series
Edition description: Reprint
Pages: 320
Sales rank: 160,929
Product dimensions: 5.40(w) x 8.20(h) x 1.10(d)
Lexile: HL730L (what's this?)
Age Range: 12 - 18 Years

About the Author

Michael Buckley is the author of the New York Times bestselling series Sisters Grimm and NERDS. Before starting to write children’s books, he worked as a stand-up comic, television writer, advertising copywriter, and a singer in a punk rock band. He lives in Brooklyn, New York. Visit his website at www.michaelbuckleywrites.com.

Read an Excerpt

CHAPTER ONE

I can’t make out faces at first. All my time in the dark has made me super sensitive to light, but I’m not worried. My other senses are heightened and helping out. I’ve learned to depend on the others—smell and sound, the taste of things, the sensations on my fingertips. They’ve helped me survive and will tell me a lot about the men who have come to rescue me.
     From their breathing I count four of them, each wearing pants made from some slick and plastic material that crinkles when they walk. Their footfalls help me guess their height and weight. Each is over six feet tall. Three of them are hovering around two hundred pounds but the fourth is closer to two fifty. They all reek of fish and hard work. They must be fishermen. When they talk, they speak Spanish, a language I barely understand, but their voices give me a sense of their ages. One is an old man, and there are three younger ones. I’m on their ship. Every time the water slaps its side I hear a hollow pound.
     “Te tengo,” one of the men says as he hoists me out of the water. He has strong arms. He sets me down next to him and when I put my arm on his shoulder I feel a heavy wool sweater. I wish I had a sweater. The wind is nasty and bitingly cold. My jumpsuit is so torn and mangled it no longer insulates much, so the weather pokes at every part.
     “Mira su espalda!” one of the men cries. His fear drifts into my nose. He’s terrified of me. Perhaps he sees the scales. I reach for my jaw and feel my gills vanishing under my skin.
     “Mira a los brazos,” another shouts. “Ella es un demonio.”
     Demonio is a word I know all too well from Shadow’s mother. She was a very religious person, and whenever anything bad happened, she blamed the demonio—i.e., the devil. The man backs away from me, reaching for something long and dark mounted on the wall.
     “No se engañen, ella es una sirena,” the old one says. My eyes are starting to adjust. I can make out his bushy gray beard.
     “Wait? Did you just say Sirena?” I cry.
     “She speaks English.”
     “Where did you come from?”
     “I thought they had tails.”
     “There are all kinds,” the old man explains impatiently. “Back up. You’re crowding her.”
     “No! We have to throw her over the side! More will come,” the smallest of the group cries. His hands lock on my arms. He’s pushing me toward the railing.
     Bam! My palm crashes into his jaw. It’s a crushing shot, considering I still can’t fully see him. My second punch connects as well, and knocks the wind out of him. The oxygen flies out like a rocket launching into space. While he recovers, my foot crashes into his partner’s kidney. He backs away, groaning and in pain.
     “Girl, you must calm yourself,” the old man shouts.
     “You calm down. I’m winning.”
     There’s a long moment where only the wind is begging us to relax.
     “This is my boat,” the old man yells at the others. “She needs help, and we’re going to help her. If you have a problem with that, you can start swimming for shore now.”
     I don’t hear any complaints.
     “I need a ride,” I finally rasp. My voice is weak and cracking from lack of use. It sounds unfamiliar on the surface.
     “First you tell me the truth. Are there more of you out there?” the old man demands.
     “No. I’m alone, and I’m not a mermaid. I’m American, from New York City. I need to get to land. I have to get back home.”
     “What’s your name?” One of the younger ones demands. He’s tall, handsome, a youthful version of the old man. With my sight fully returned, I can see the others have the same features. They must be his sons. I haven’t seen a human face in so long. I’d reach out and caress their cheeks if I hadn’t just punched them.
     “Lyric Walker.”
     He studies me closely, rubbing the three- or four-day scruff on his face. I’m a square peg, and all he has in front of him are round holes.
     “Lyric Walker is dead,” he says.
     A bitter blossom opens wide in my belly. The world has given me up for dead? If four fishermen in the middle of nowhere think I was killed, then everyone must think the same thing. My mom and dad must be heartbroken. Bex, the Alpha kids—I’ve caused so much pain. Is that why Fathom didn’t come for me? No, that’s letting him off easy. He should have come.
     “Can you take me to shore?”
     “There’s a nasty storm coming our way,” the old man says as he gestures toward the horizon. Rain pours out of a hole in the clouds and batters a little rock of an island you wouldn’t see if you didn’t know it was there. Hot lightning slashes the sky, leaving glowing purple scars. “We’ll take you, but no more rough stuff.”
     I throw up my hands in surrender.
     “Pop! Are you sure?” The tallest of the three boys is not happy.
     “It’s my boat,” his father roars, again. “Did I raise the three of you to leave a girl stranded out here in the middle of the Atlantic? You wait until your grandmother hears how selfish you have become. She’ll disown the whole bunch.”
     “She’s no girl, Pop. She’s something else.”
     The old man waves his sons off with his huge, meaty hands. “You let me do the thinking around here. Keep packing the fish in ice. That’s three hundred thousand dollars’ worth of mackerel spoiling in the sun.”
     There are no more complaints from his boys, and the old man seems satisfied. He turns, tilts his head toward a flight of stairs that lead down into the belly of the boat, and then points himself in that direction. His three sons get back to work, turning on a huge machine bolted to the deck. It whines and shakes, crushing ice into tiny cubes. The brothers use hooks to drag monstrous white fish into the hull, and the ice spills down on top.
     “Those are good fish,” I say.
     The youngest son gives me some sideways shade, then puts his eyes back on his job.
     The captain helps me manage the steps. We descend into a tight and narrow hallway. The ceiling is too low, and the walls are too close. I have to fight the urge to turn and bolt back up the stairs.
     “Something wrong?” the old man asks.
     “I’m not used to tight spaces, or having something over my head,” I explain.
     “Sorry, but it’s all close quarters on a boat. Comfort takes a back seat to practicality,” he says as he continues onward. We pass three hatches, each dark and cramped. One is a bunkroom with two sets of steel bunk beds mounted to the floor and walls. Footlockers rest beneath them. Everything is neat and tidy. Not a single thing is out of place. He flips on a light, and my eyes squint into it. I can’t help but marvel at its glow. Electricity is something I once took for granted. With just a flick of the finger, darkness is dashed. It’s such a casual activity, but now it feels like I’m witnessing a miracle.
     While I’m gawking like Harry Potter on his first day at Hogwarts, my host bends down, opens a lockbox, and removes a wool sweater just like the one he’s wearing. In a flash I’m out of my jumpsuit. It’s the first time I’ve taken it off in months, and it feels good to get the clingy, wet fabric off me. The old sailor stumbles back in surprise. I’ve shocked the hell out of him with my nakedness. I yank the blanket off the bed and wrap it around me, but he’s already seen the whole show.
     “Don’t get any funny ideas,” I say to his tomato-colored face.
     “Oh, this old-timer isn’t looking for another punch in the face,” he says. “Now, what is going on with your back?”
     He gently turns me around and pulls the blanket away a little.
     “What’s this stuff you’ve got wrapped around you?” he presses. Before I can stop him, he unties the twine that holds a mound of black weeds to my skin. All of it falls to the floor like a wet towel.
     “Dios mío,” he whispers.
     I have no idea what my back looks like. I haven’t seen it, and even though there is a mirror in the cabin, I decide not to look. What do I need to see? I can imagine the crisscrossed collection of scars and welts and fresh lacerations easily enough.
     “I’ve got a first aid kit in the kitchen,” he says, darting out of the room like he’s seen a ghost. “You’re going to need a doctor.”
     “I’ll be fine,” I call after him.
     I can hear him rummaging around in one of the other rooms. While he’s gone, I study a map pinned to the wall. It’s of Central America, from Costa Rica all the way up to Haiti. At the top, where the map stops, is the Caribbean Sea.
     “Where are we headed?” I shout.
     “Panama,” he says when he returns with a rusty steel case featuring a big red cross painted on the front. He opens it, sorts through some of the packs, then finds a can of something and gives it a good shake.
     Panama. I wasn’t too far off in my guesses. I knew they took me south. The water was warmer. I wonder if my geography teacher would be proud. I wonder if she’s still alive.
     “This is going to sting,” he warns, then sprays my skin.
     He’s no liar. When the icy cold propellant hits my back, it feels like a cowboy is branding it with a sizzling poker. He apologizes, but he doesn’t stop.
     “It’s a miracle that this isn’t infected,” he hisses, as if my wounds offend him. “The spray will go a long way to keeping it clean.”
     “What’s the date?”
     “February twenty-sixth,” he says.
     Three months. I’ve been gone for three months.
     Next he smears a greasy salve over everything and bandages me the best he can. He helps me into the sweater and a pair of baggy running shorts that threaten to fall down.
     “What hurt you like that?”
     “It was a who.”
     He doesn’t push me for more information, and I’m grateful. How am I going to explain the last three months of my life? It’s just too much, and telling him seems unfair, like I’m dumping a burden on his shoulders.
     “Let’s get you something to eat.” He leads me back into the hall, past a door I guess leads to the engine room. A colossal, boxy machine lives inside, covered in gauges and glowing buttons and a pressure wheel. It rocks back and forth, like it’s thinking about breaking through the door and making an escape. The final room is a galley kitchen with stainless-steel cabinets, a microwave, mini fridge, and a padlocked cage full of canned goods. Like the other rooms, everything is bolted to the floors and walls, including the table and chairs. He smiles when he notices my curiosity.
     “A big wave could send it all flying,” the old man explains. “You can’t have furniture soaring through the air when you’re trying to survive a hurricane.”
     He gestures to an empty chair, and I sink into it while he goes to work removing bowls and a carton of milk from the fridge.
     “I haven’t sat in a chair in a while,” I say out loud, not really to him, but more to myself, a statement of fact, a reminder that I’m back in the land of the living. He’s a bit bewildered, but then either accepts that I’ve been through hell or doesn’t want to get wrapped up in any more of me.
     “What’s your name?” I ask.
     “Encardo,” he says. “Those are my sons up there, Ricardo, Manuel, and Nicky.”
     “They’re nervous about me.”
     “They don’t see a lot of mermaids,” he says.
     “I’m not a mermaid.”
     “That’s not what I read. What are you then, Ms. Walker?”
     The answer feels trapped at the center of a maze. I wonder if I can steer him in the right directions, help him avoid the dead ends, until he finds the truth, but I can’t trust where the path will take him. It’s too confusing. Even I get lost on the way to the answer.
     “My mother is a Sirena, sort of what people think of when they think mermaid. My dad is human.”
     “Interesting,” he says. I can’t tell if it’s good interesting or bad interesting. “Are there many like you?”
     “No, not a lot,” I say. “Your English is very good.”
     “Thank you. My mother was from Cleveland. How do you find yourself floating more than two hundred miles from any inhabited area?” he asks, keeping his eyes on the stove. He tosses tortillas into a skillet and flips them over using only his bare fingers.
     “Oh, you’ve probably heard this story a million times,” I tell him.
     He laughs. “Try me.”
     “I was taken against my will. I escaped, and now I’m trying to get home to find my family.”
     “It’s a miracle you didn’t drown out there. That’s a nice talent. Any chance you can teach me and the boys how to do it?” he says, scooping refried beans out of a Tupperware bowl and putting them into the pan.
     “You’d be better off staying out of the water, Encardo.”
     He hears the warning in my voice and locks eyes with me for a brief moment. Again, he doesn’t press for more information. Maybe he’s smart enough to know better.
     When the timer goes off, he adds a little cheese and some chopped tomatoes, then slides it all onto a paper plate. I look down into my lunch, feeling the heat on my face, smelling the lovely, spicy aroma, and quietly thanking God that it isn’t fish. I haven’t eaten anything I didn’t kill myself in a long time. The first bite reminds me of home; lunches at the cheap Mexican place on Neptune that served plantains and tacos with red cabbage. The flavors and memories sweep me away, and tears I can’t explain dribble down my cheeks.
     “Something wrong?”
     I shrug, because words feel inadequate to express the rush of memories, and the shocking reminder that I was once a teenage girl. How do I tell him that his kindness is almost too much to take, like having a memory of a past life? Only a crazy person is overcome by a fork and a plate and a table and a napkin, but they are a glorious equation that proves I am human again, and alive. Maybe there are words, but I don’t know them. My energy has to stay focused on fighting back sobs and the impulse to pocket the fork because it would make an excellent tool.
     Encardo sets his hand on mine and gives it a pat before pulling it away. Maybe he doesn’t need any words to understand.
     There is a vague recollection of table manners buried in the back of my mind, but I’m too hungry to care, and considering the number of stains on Encardo’s sweater, I suspect he doesn’t care two shakes about niceties. I gobble everything down with a ferocity that’s embarrassing. Encardo scoops up the plate and piles more on top. He hovers until I’m ready for thirds, piles them high, then pulls a chair up across the table from me.
     “They say you’re a killer, Lyric Walker.”
     I set the fork down and shake my head. “They say a lot of things, Encardo. Here’s what I’m saying. I was a kid when New York was attacked. I did everything I could to stop it. I saved people. You have to believe me. I didn’t want my home to be destroyed in a tidal wave, but what could I do? I was a soldier for the second attack. I fought hard, but people still died. Friends of mine died, but I saved the world. Anyone who tells you different doesn’t know what they’re talking about.”
     I’m not expecting him to believe me. He’s read what he’s read, and he’s seen what he’s seen, and all of it was filtered and edited into whatever sold the most outrage. I shouldn’t be surprised that people don’t know the truth, but I can’t help feeling indignant.
     “Does that answer your question?”
     He sits back in his chair, studying me until he nods.
     “Got any more of those beans?” I ask.
     He chuckles to himself and snatches my plate for the third time.
     When I’m so full I can barely breathe, I help him clean up and thank him for the meal.
     “I had a daughter once,” he says, wistfully. I don’t press him on it. I guess we’re even. “C’mon, I’ll get you a place to sleep.”
     He leads us back through the hall and into the room with the bunks. Under the bed where he got the sweater is another trunk full of blankets and pillows. He snatches a few and throws them on a bottom mattress.
     “Sleep if you can. If the storm catches us, there won’t be rest for anyone,” he warns. “You can lock the hatch from the inside, not that you’ll need to, but if there is an emergency, I’ll need you on deck helping out. Just letting you know. The ocean is an unpredictable creature.”
     “Yeah, I’ve heard.”
     I flip the lock back and forth, just to try it out.
     “I heard Coney Island is gone now,” he says. “Where will you go?”
     “The most boring place I can find,” I reveal.
     “If they have rum, I’ll come for a visit. I’ll wake you before we get into port.”
     “Encardo, do you have family in Panama?”
     “My wife and some grandbabies. Nicky and Ricardo are married. Why?”
     For a moment, I consider not telling him the truth. I really want to put it all behind me, get on land, and find my way back to New York. I want to be done with everything, but he’s been so nice. He deserves a chance.
     “There’s something out in that water,” I say. “Be ready to take the people you love and leave when it comes onshore. Do you believe I’m telling you the truth?”
     He stares at me for a long time, mulling my warning, then he nods and wishes me a good night. When the hatch is pulled close, I lock the door and listen to his boots stomping down the hall and up the steps. I don’t take another breath until I hear him above me.
     “I think we’re okay, now,” I whisper to myself, then crawl onto the bunk and curl myself into an embryo. How decadent it is to lie down, to pull a quilt over me for warmth, to fold the pillow in half to support my head, all the little labors of making myself comfortable. Everything is a miracle, even the yellow light bulb ticking on the ceiling. I’m so excited by the possibility of sleep I can barely lie still.
     With a flick of a switch, the room becomes a tomb. In my old room I needed it to be practically pitch-dark before I could sleep, but now I feel like I’m in a crevice at the bottom of the sea where horrible things scurry. My throat constricts. Panic wraps around my lungs and squeezes the air out of me. I open my mouth to scream but nothing exits. I sit up, frantically searching for the switch with clumsy fingers. Click. The room is aglow again, but I’m still shaking, my bones rattling in their joints. The dark is no longer my friend.
     Lyric, you cannot abandon us.
     “Where I’m going you can’t come,” I whisper.
     The voice wants to argue, but I push it out of my mind. Damn his expectations, his heroic plans to rally the world and prepare for a fight. I’m going to find the people I love, and we’re going to Denver, or somewhere else that’s high on a mountain where the bogeyman can’t ride in on the tide.
     Lyric. They will find you. You can’t hide.
     “I’m sure as hell going to try,” I cry, pressing my hands against my head to block out his pleas. I rock back and forth on the mattress until his voice fades and the creaking ship returns as my only soundtrack.
     “I thought I had this room to myself,” I whisper to no one. The emptiness feels awfully crowded.

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Heart of the Storm (Undertow Trilogy Series #3) 5 out of 5 based on 0 ratings. 1 reviews.
Anonymous More than 1 year ago
:)