I break the surface of the ocean and gulp in air. With just my head poking out above the waves, I search the beach for Finn. I see him combing the beach for clams. He spots me and motions for me to come in. I decide to try to spear one more fish and take a deep breath before plunging back into the dark sea. I open my eyes and try to ignore the stinging salt water. I spot a fat fish lazily swimming around the reef. I follow it slowly, trying to sneak up on it. Just as I get my spear ready to throw, the fish spots the shiny tip and flees to a small crevice in the reef. Even though I am running low on air, I try to follow, but as I swim forward, my knee scrapes against the rocky bottom.
Blood turns the water red and pain makes me gasp in shock, causing me to suck in water. I hurriedly kick to the top and force the salt water out of my throat. Coughing and spluttering, I try to make my way back to shore while dragging the net full of brown fish with me. Finn sees me struggling and drops his bag of clams. I barely see him dive into the water as I focus on keeping my head above the water. I fight to hold back tears as Finn helps me to shore. Just as I reach dry land, the sun breaks over the horizon and fills the sky with vibrant colors.
“Are you alright, Marina?” Finn asks in concern as I plop on the sandy shore.
“I’ll be fine.” I reply after spewing the rest of the salt water. Getting up, I explain, “I just cut my knee on Halibut Reef and accidentally gulped in water like a fish.”
Finn laughs as he hoists the bag of clams over his shoulder and helps me up the hill toward the village. “Get any big ones?”
“I speared a couple. It was pretty hard though, because they aren’t quite coming out of their caves for summer yet. In a few weeks or so there will be whole schools!” I say. We trudge up the sandy path that runs down the side of the cliff, with Finn supporting me. The pathway conveniently connects the village to the beach, although there’s a nasty drop on one side.
As we continue up the sketchy trail, we pass another fishing pair, Kelly and Noah. They are a few years older than us. Noah is a master fisherman, and Kelly has almost passed the grueling tests to become one. Once they are both masters, they will each receive an apprentice who they have to train up. Finn and I smile and nod at a master fishing pair, Noah and Kelly, who each have their own apprentices already, even though they are only a few years older than us. They apparently don’t notice us, and we keep going.
Finally, we reach Finn’s house. We lay out our finds and I sit on the old wooden chairs on the front porch to get started on cleaning my fish. As Finn goes inside to get the First Aid kit, Claire opens the creaky wooden door and leaps into my arms, sending the knife that I was using to get the scales off the fish spinning into the dirt road.
“Claire!” I protest. My little sister doesn’t seem to mind my soaking wetsuit and buries her head in my shoulder.
“I missed you!” She says, her cute little lisp slurring her words. She grins at me and I can’t help smiling at the sight of her missing two front teeth.
“I missed you!” I say as I put her down. Claire immediately begins to play with the fish, poking them in the eyes and holding them by the tail. My little sister is the cutest girl alive. With her short blonde hair riddled with ringlets, pudgy cheeks, and cheerful personality, she is loved by everyone in the town. All the villagers have helped to raise her up, since our parents died in the Second Plague. Many of my neighbors and friends have lost at least one family member to the unstoppable disease. Thankfully, the plague has subsided, but only 20,000 people live in the United States now. 20 people were each given 1,000 people to govern. I live in the most prosperous country, the Kingdom by the Sea. It is ruled by Queen Kylie, who rules with generosity and kindness. Our country is now thriving, thanks to her. I think the biggest issue that she had to solve was cleaning up our country, cleansing it of the past and preparing it for a brighter future. She was given complete control of the country, but decided to let the other set up countries rule as they pleased, probably to maintain peace between everyone.
Lost in thought, I ponder about our country’s prosperity. Finn breaks me out of my trance by waving his hand in front of my face. I sit up with a jolt and smile apologetically.
Heather, Finn’s mother, washes my wound with clear water. She has taken Claire and I in, and have practically been our mother for the past five years. Her kind eyes and hearty laugh make her an excellent mother figure. Presently, Finn’s older sister, Annette, comes up out, dressed in her fancy teacher clothes. She smiles at us and starts down the dirt path to the schoolhouse. Finally, Heather is finished wrapping up my knee.
“Thanks, Heather.” I say gratefully.
“Think nothing of it, dearie.” Heather says cheerfully as she bustles inside to prepare Finn’s clams.
Finn and I finish gutting the fish and leave half of them in the sun to dry. The other half we drop off to Heather before getting ready to go to school.