Here is a short story that I wrote several weeks ago. It's a tween fantasy I hope you'll enjoy.
The Monster Inside
by Kevin Hopson
“What if Mom finds out?”
“If this works,” Ann said, “she won’t even care.”
Michael coughed as he sat opposite of her on the creaky boat. Ann continued to row, allowing her little brother to rest.
“Take a nap,” she insisted. “I’ll let you know when we get close.”
“I don’t think I can sleep,” he replied, easing back and stretching out his legs. Michael’s feet nearly touched Ann given the cramped quarters. “You know I don’t like the water.”
“I’m well aware of it,” Ann said, her head turning to look the other way.
In the distance, a massive mountain jutted out of the sea. Positioned only a couple of miles off the coast, Firemound Island was a spectacular sight. The island’s crimson colors were a beautiful backdrop against the dark blue water that surrounded its rocky borders. Halfway to their destination and with several hours of light left, Ann felt confident they would be home by nightfall.
She focused again on Michael, who looked peaceful with his eyes closed. His dark hair—once thick and long—was spotty at best, like fuzz atop the head of a newborn bird. Behind him rested Sutport, the banks of the quaint fishing town still within view. Located along the Alderton Sea, Sutport enjoyed the largest harbor in Belwich County.
Michael shuffled his feet, his eyes opening and squinting at the bright sun overhead. “What did you bring to eat?” He asked with a hand against his forehead.
“Mom baked some fresh bread this morning,” she answered. “It’s in the basket. I can get it for you.”
“No,” he said. “I can do it.” Michael grabbed the basket and immediately dug in. He sat up a little more, breaking apart small pieces and chewing them at a frantic pace. “Do you think this is a good idea?”
“No. It isn’t healthy to eat so fast.” Ann tried to keep a straight face, but her shoulders eventually bobbed from laughter.
“You know what I mean,” Michael said, cracking a smile.
“Why are you asking me? I’m the one who needed convincing. You’ve been pulling my arm for weeks.”
“I know.” Michael paused. “It’s just that things can change. What sounds good at first can be scary when you finally go through with it.”
“I guess,” he responded.
Michael shrugged his shoulders. “Maybe it’s the unknown.”
“But Firemound Island will save you,” Ann said with a reassuring voice. “That’s why we’re out here.”
She remembered the day vividly. Having heard rumors of Firemound’s healing powers, thirteen children from Sutport—all of them suffering the same disease as Michael—set sail for the island nearly a year ago. However, only one of them returned. The young boy who did rarely talked of the incident. Despite coming back in no better health than when he left, the boy said he witnessed magic there. He refused to discuss the fate of the other twelve children, but family members of the lost girls and boys claim to have seen the faces of their loved ones at sea. People see what they want to see. That was Ann’s belief, anyway.
“What if I’m meant to die another way?”
“We’re all destined to die,” Ann commented. “You should only focus on things you can control, and finding the cure is something we have control over.”
Michael didn’t respond. Ann could tell the wheels were turning inside his head, and she had a good idea what her brother was thinking.
“The sea creature?” Ann brought it up before Michael had a chance to say anything. “Is that what you’re worried about? You actually believe in the myth?”
It’s why parents with sick children were so reluctant to make the trip to Firemound Island, including her own mother. They feared the whole family would meet their demise.
Michael nodded his head. “I don’t know if I believe it completely, but it’s possible.”
“Sure. Anything’s possible.” Ann wanted to voice her opinion, but she decided to bite her tongue instead.
Michael suddenly turned to his right and, on his knees, bent over the side of the boat. Ann quickly made her way over to him, initially putting a hand on his shoulder. When he proceeded to vomit, she released her grip, giving Michael the space he needed. Once he finished, she rubbed his back, attempting to comfort him.
“Are you okay?” She asked.
“I think so,” he answered. “I guess you were right about eating too fast, especially when I get sea sick so easily.”
Ann hoped it was a case of sea sickness—and not the disease—that was bringing on Michael’s episode. Out of breathe and trying to recover, he turned his head toward the front of the boat, his eyes growing wide. Ann twisted her neck to look.
“What is that?” Michael inquired.
Ann couldn’t believe her eyes. “A whirlpool,” she said with a weak voice.
One had formed about fifty feet in front of them, effectively pulling the vessel in its direction. Ann needed to reverse the boat’s momentum, and quickly. As she stood up to reposition herself, the craft tilted to one side, causing her to lose balance.
“Michael,” she screamed.
Her brother fell into the water. She didn’t see him at first, but Michael’s head popped up a few seconds later. Unfortunately, he was a good fifteen feet away, already past the bow of the boat and quickly heading toward the vortex. As much as she didn’t want to leave the boat behind, Ann had no choice. She made her way to the front of the vessel and dove into the water.
“Oh, God,” she gasped. The chill of the water shocked her body.
Unlike Michael, Ann had always been a good swimmer. Adrenaline pumping, she raced to catch up to her brother. His head dipped up and down in the water, sometimes going under temporarily before breaking the surface again. No matter how hard she swam, she couldn’t close the gap between her and Michael. He’ll drown. He’ll never survive this.
In a rare moment, Ann found herself thinking negatively, practically giving up. Michael had been sucked into the whirlpool, his body circling the current like water in a drain. He went under, disappearing from her sight. It was Ann’s turn. She could only go where the water wanted her to, so she stopped fighting it. Never before had Ann been so scared. Emptiness consumed her, starting in the stomach and crawling up through her mouth until she could barely breathe. She feared for Michael’s life, and ultimately her own, as her head went below the water.
* * * *
“Ann?” Through darkness, a voice called out for her. “Ann,” the voice said again.
She felt a cold hand on her face, forcing her to wake. Ann opened her eyes. A blurry image knelt before her, eventually clearing up as her eyes adjusted to the light.
“Michael,” she shouted. Ann sat up and wrapped her arms around him. “I can’t believe it’s you.”
Michael squeezed her tight and then released his grip, backing away from her. “Look at this place,” he said, standing with his arms in the air. For someone who had just come face to face with death, Michael was in surprisingly good spirits.
Ann examined her surroundings. They appeared to be in some sort of cavern, but it was unnaturally bright, almost as if an artificial source illuminated the walls of the cave. The array of colors—turquoise, fire orange, and burnt brown—stimulated her senses. A body of water entered through an opening in one of the large rock walls, reflecting the images overhead and making it hard to tell what was up and what was down.
“Are we dead?” The way she said it almost sounded sarcastic, but Ann couldn’t have been more serious.
“No,” a deep voice answered.
A monstrosity emerged from the water, one that towered over her. Gray in color, it possessed a turtle-like face with a long neck and tail. The creature had six limbs, which consisted of four legs and two giant fins that acted like wings on each side of its body.
Ann got to her feet and pulled Michael close to her.
“I’m not going to hurt you,” the creature said.
Uncertain if she could believe him, Ann continued to hold Michael’s head to her chest. “Where are we?”
“Beneath Firemound Island,” he answered.
“How did we get here?”
“You don’t remember?”
Ann shook her head. “I got sucked under, and I woke up here.”
“It’s no surprise,” the creature said. “These waters have a secret. It’s their way of keeping it.”
Initially confused by the comment, Ann understood what he meant. “If we don’t remember how we got here, we can’t tell others how to find it. Is that what you’re saying?”
The creature nodded. “Yes. Only those who are invited are allowed to enter.”
“But we’re here,” Ann pointed out.
“Yes. The boy is sick. Is he not?”
“How would you know that?”
“I don’t,” the creature replied, “but the sea does. It has a sense for these things.”
Ann pondered for a moment. “The whirlpool,” she said. “That was the sea’s way of inviting us in?”
“It felt more like a near-death experience,” Ann said with a hint of irritation. “I didn’t find it welcoming at all.”
“I apologize,” the creature said. “It wasn’t meant to scare you, but it served its purpose, nonetheless.”
“How is it we didn’t drown?” Ann inquired.
“The sea ensured your safety. It allowed you to breathe temporarily while under water.”
Ann took a deep breath, trying to take all of it in. “Do you have a name?”
“Kentim,” he responded. “And you?”
“I’m Ann. This is my brother, Michael.”
“A pleasure to meet both of you. How are you feeling, Michael?”
Ann could sense her brother’s reluctance to speak. “Go ahead,” she insisted.
“I’m okay,” Michael said.
“But you could be better?”
“Yes,” he replied.
“What if you could be cured of your disease?” Kentim paused, allowing the question to sink in. “Would that interest you?”
“Of course,” Michael answered.
“I guess my real question is what would you be willing to do in exchange for it?”
“What are you getting at?” Ann intervened.
“As I said,” Kentim stated, “these waters are special. They have healing powers, but it comes at a price.”
“Which is?” Ann continued to press him.
“You can never go back to your family,” Kentim said.
Ann stepped forward, keeping Michael close. “Why?”
“While the waters will rid Michael of his disease, they will also change him. He will become one with the sea, unable to return to his normal life.” Kentim took a few seconds before continuing. “Let me show you.” He looked off to the side, staring at the water. “Rah.”
A human head popped out of the water. A boy, who Ann recognized as one of the twelve missing children, walked onto the rocky shore next to them and smiled. He was different, though. Gills lined both sides of his neck, and his arms had some sort of webbing attached to them.
“Rah was stricken with the same disease that Michael now fights, but he’s been cured,” Kentim said. “However, the sea has altered his way of life.”
“But he can breathe out of the water,” Ann said.
Rah dove back in, staying submerged this time.
“Only for a few seconds at a time,” Kentim acknowledged. “Land life is no longer suitable.”
“So this is where the children disappeared to?”
“You made them do this?”
“Of course not,” Kentim replied. “I gave them a choice. The same choice I’m giving your brother, Michael.”
Ann thought about the lone boy who returned. Given what she knew now, she understood why he came back. “Why would they choose to do this?”
“I can’t say,” Kentim said. “I never asked any of them, nor did they tell me. I just assumed they wanted a second chance at life.” He glanced at Michael. “What do you think, young man?”
Michael stuttered, eventually spitting out the words. “I’m tired of being sick,” he said, “but I would miss my family. It would also break my mother’s heart if I left her.”
An idea came to mind, forcing Ann to speak up. “What if both of us stayed?” Michael looked at her with confused eyes.
“I’m sorry,” Kentim said. “The invitation applies to Michael. You were only brought here out of courtesy to him.”
“I don’t want to leave you,” Michael said to Ann. He began to cry.
Ann knelt down beside her brother, turning her back to Kentim. “Listen to me,” she whispered. “You don’t have to do this, but think about Mom.”
“I am,” he said with a light voice.
“I’m not talking about you missing her or vice-versa,” Ann said. “Mom would give her life for you. So would I. As much as she would miss you, she would want you to do this.”
“But I’m scared,” Michael said.
“I know you are, but you’ve been so brave through all of this. Please don’t give up now.”
“What is your answer?” Kentim interrupted.
Ann embraced her brother, both of them shedding tears.
* * * *
Ann and her mother made their way to the dock. It was their special day of the week, and they hadn’t missed it once in six months. Ann carried a picnic basket in one hand and a blanket in the other. She laid the quilt on the wooden walkway, taking a seat along the edge of the pier. Her mother sat beside her. Ann reached over to touch her hand. She turned her head and offered Ann a warm smile, welcoming her touch.
A splash of water suddenly caught their attention. Ann looked out at the sea, noticing a boy’s head bobbing above its surface only a few yards away. He laughed. Ann felt her mother’s grip tighten. As she glanced over, her mother continued to look straight ahead, focused on the little boy. The smile on her face widened. It was a sign of contentment. A sign of happiness. Michael was with them again.