Chapter One

For R,

My first and biggest fan

Thank you.

Mia walked up the gangplank slowly, holding her suitcase tightly as she did so. The Santa Georgia was a beautiful cruise ship. Long, sleek and and white, everything about her looked expensive. She still couldn't believe her Dad, a doctor in her home town of Miami, Florida, had been willing to pay for her fare to cross the Caribbean sea just to visit her aunt who was a well known writer in the Bahamas.

He'd said it would be an early birthday present, to spend a month in the Bahamas for her sixteenth birthday. A birthday which was in exactly two weeks. She realized he was probably still feeling guilty about Tammy, the girlfriend he would soon marry. Mia's mom had died ten years ago, crushing them both. She had never even considered the idea that her father might find happiness again. And though she was glad for him, there was still a lot of hurt. How could he ever replace her mother? Though she knew her father loved her, he had a tendency to try and buy her approval. The trip would be nice, but she still wasn't sure about Tammy.

"Fare please!"

A young woman in a white sailor suit stared expectantly at Mia. Mia, startled out of her reverie, fumbled for the slip of paper certifying she had paid for this trip. The woman took it, punched some holes in it, then matched the number at the top to the clipboard she was holding.

"2118 Mia Curtis, is that correct?"

Mia nodded.

"Just a reminder, your room is 103. Go straight down this deck, up the B stairs and turn left. Entertainment features and today's menu are in the second lobby which is on the lower deck." She smiled, then turned her attention to the next person in line.

Mia walked quickly. She felt like she was in dream that would shatter at any moment.

I'm actually on a cruise ship! How cool is that?

She wished she could have brought friends along, but that would have been way too expensive. She turned left as instructed through a pair of white double doors, and found herself in a cool, carpeted hallway. All the doors were painted a pale blue, and had the room numbers in brass at the top. She found 103 almost immediately. It was right at the end of the hall. She opened her purse, and pulled out the little gold key she'd been given while getting her certification sheet.

The lock clicked and she pushed open the door. It was a nice little room with a tropical theme to it. The walls were painted a seashell pink and there were palm trees on the bedspread. There was a writing desk and chair in the corner and a tiny bathroom near the door. A large T.V sat in front of the bed and a big porthole above the desk gave a good view of the main deck.

Mia turned on the air conditioner immediately, trying to get rid of the hot sticky feeling from the humid air outside. Then she put down her suitcase and let herself fall with a thump onto the bed, her arms outstretched. This was most definitely the best birthday present she'd ever gotten.

The next day was like a dream. Eating at the restaurant for breakfast, listening to the jazz band play at dinner, playing in the pool hall. The best part was the freedom, being able to come and go at her own will. She knew her Dad would never have let her go on this trip if he didn't trust her, and felt a deep sense of pride that he did.

On the second day, Mia decided to explore the ship. After she had inspected every inch from the small theatre to the spa room she climbed up to the highest deck and gazed out over the ocean. The water was an amazing turquoise blue, and rippled and sparkled in the sunlight. She noticed it seemed a little choppier than yesterday, but it was probably because of the warm but strong wind they'd gotten today. Around late afternoon she decided to go write in her diary. She was determined to have a keepsake of this trip.

She sat down at the little desk and pulled her leather journal out of the suitcase.

Dear Diary,

Today I ate in the Café Paris . They served pasta with garlic bread and wine. I didn't have the wine of course, but the man at the table across from me did. He got so drunk, the waiter had to help him back to his room. He was singing ' ring around the rosy' as they led him out the door. I don't understand why they let him order so much wine in the first place. I guess they're not worried about drunk driving around here. If he got too rowdy, they could always throw him overboard…

She was just describing the spa room when the patch of sunlight that had been on her page vanished. She looked up, surprised. Through the porthole, she could see the sun had disappeared in a mass of grey clouds. She thought she heard a distant rumble.

Thunder? It couldn't be. Most likely it was the constant humming of the ships engines.

Mia shrugged, and turned on the desk lamp, quickly finishing the entry. At 6 o'clock she went down to the restaurant Carnivalle, the main eating place on the ship. By the time she got back to her room it was quarter to eight. She surfed some channels, and was just about to turn in, when the word ' Miami' on the weather channel caught her attention.

"- It is apparent this hot sunny weather will continue for some time. So for all you people in the North Vickers, lower Miami area, don't be shy to venture forth to the beach this weekend. The temperature should be hitting a high of around 30 C, so don't forget to pack that sunscreen. And for other weather news tonight, a tropical stor-"

Mia turned off the T.V. quickly. She could already feel the homesickness setting in. How was it possible to hear the word Miami and not think of home? She wondered what her Dad was doing right now. Did he miss her? She set the alarm clock on the night table for seven thirty, then lay down and pulled the covers up to her chin. She was just wondering how many passengers were actually on this cruise when her eyelids slowly drooped, and she fell fast asleep.

A loud rumbling sound filled her ears as she walked down the hallway. The floor began to tilt, and she had the strange sensation of rocking back and forth. Her stomach felt queasy. She began to run toward the door, afraid she would slip and fall into the-

Mia groaned and sat up rubbing her eyes tiredly. Se hated the dreams that made you feel like you were falling or getting seasick. This one had been especially real. She felt dizzy. She checked the alarm clock and saw that it was 2:30 AM. She was sleepily plumping up her pillow again when she was suddenly lurched forward. A loud roar filled her ears. She looked out the porthole to see rain pouring down the glass. It was pitch dark outside.

So she hadn't been dreaming. The floor suddenly tilted again, and Mia grabbed the edge of the bed tightly. It felt like the ship was being tossed around and couldn't decide which way to go. It lurched to the right again, and Mia fell forward. She scrambled to get up and ran to the port hole, pressing her nose against the ice cold glass.

She couldn't make out a thing, just inky blackness. She sat down on the bed, wondering what to do. If they were in real danger, wouldn't a steward come to warn them? She hurried into the bathroom and opened the small cupboard. No life jacket.

She went to lie down on the bed again. She was restless, and a large knot was beginning to form in her stomach. She watched the clock anxiously. Something didn't feel right.

Calm down Mia, it's just a little thunder, so the ships tilting a bit. Big deal. The water's a little rough, but there's a minor storm, tossing and turning is to be expected.

Mia closed her eyes tightly. Ok, so she had a little confession to make, she was sort of afraid of thunderstorms. Her imagination was in hyper drive. She cursed herself for watching all those bad-storm-the-ship's-going-to-Davy-jones-locker-man-overboard-movies. She was just forcing herself to go back to sleep, when a large puddle of water began to pool under her door. She sat bolt upright in bed. Her first thought was; the ship is sinking. She dashed to the door and opened it. The carpeting in the hallway was soggy and wet. Puddles had formed everywhere.

This is not happening.

Mia grabbed her slipper, and wedged it in the door, then sprinted down the hallway. A few people were standing around in bathrobes, mumbling to themselves. They didn't know what was going on either. She began to panic. She saw the white double doors, and headed toward them. Water was flowing in under them, moving in all directions. The ship lurched again, and she was thrown into the wall. An old man in pinstripe pajama's grabbed Mia's arm.

"Eh, you know what's going on young lady? Steward came by bout an hour ago, told us not to worry. This floor here's just about soaked through. Were not supposed to go out on deck though, too dangerous. What have you heard?"

"Nothing." Mia replied. "Wait, why hasn't anyone tried the doors at the end of the hall? They lead to the main lobby!"

The old man shook his head. "They're locked."

"Locked?" Mia ran down the hall, and tried to turn the doorknobs, but with no luck. Why on earth would they lock these doors? What about all the people on the other side of the ship? Are their doors to the lobby locked too? Isn't it illegal to lock an emergency exit?

A horrible thought suddenly struck her. She pressed her ear to the door and listened. A dull swooshing sound could be heard. She touched the bottom of the doors. The wood was damp. Yet the wood by the doorknob was dry. She gave a quiet gasp. The lobby was flooding, and the only thing stopping it was the rubber seal that ran along the bottom of the doors. What was wrong with the captain? Didn't he think they were in danger? By measuring how much of the wood was damp, from the bottom up, Mia could see about two feet water had already accumulated. What was going on? Why wasn't anyone telling them anything?

A shout suddenly echoed down the hall.

"Everyone to the life boats!"

Mia gasped and hurried back down the way she'd come. People were swarming toward the doors now. The noise was deafening. Some of the women were going hysterical, and a man in a black jacket was swearing loudly. There was terror in every face.

"What do I bring?" A woman called out.

"Where are the life jackets?" screamed another.

"Are we going to die? What's going on!"

A little girl close to Mia began to cry loudly. Mia felt small, scared, and alone. Where was her Dad when she needed him!

"Bring coats, warm ones! Raincoats are even better! Lifejackets will be handed out immediately. After you receive one, line up on the main deck, a steward will guide you there. Nobody panic!" The stewards came faintly from somewhere inside the massive crowd of people.

Panic? Ha. Like we're not going to panic.

Mia ran to her room, thankful her slipper was still holding the door open. The carpet in her room was wet now, and it squelched every time she walked. She clawed at her suitcase, blind with fear. Warm? She hadn't brought anything warm! This was suppose to be a hot summer cruise, not a death trip. She grabbed a pair of jean capries, the warmest she had. A sweater and tank top would have to do. Yanking off her nightgown quickly, she pulled on her clothes.

What else? What else do I need? She felt detached, like she was in a movie and the director would yell 'Cut!' at any moment. Running shoes… socks, I need socks and ….and my windbreaker. She ran around her room, getting the necessary items, trying to stay calm.

This isn't happening. When she was done she rushed out the door, forgetting to shut it behind her. The hallway was almost empty. Everyone seemed to have run for the lifeboats. Her heart skipped a beat. She nearly tripped herself in her hurry to get to the double doors. They were already open, one nearly hanging on it's hinges. She was whipped in the face with a cold wet rain as she stepped outside. The sky was full of black thunderclouds, and she could see lightning flash in the distance. But the gigantic waves that towered close by were the most terrifying. They had to be at least fifteen feet tall. What on earth would cause such a storm?

A gust of water suddenly washed over her, soaking her to the bone. She rubbed the water out of her eyes just as a strong current of wind hit her in the face. This was no ordinary thunder storm. It had to be a hurricane, and by the force of the wind, it was coming closer. Fear took hold of her, and she nearly collapsed, right then and there.

"Into the life boats! Everyone on deck!" A muffled call came through the rain. Mia took off, her terror giving her speed. Stewards were everywhere, blowing whistles, organizing people into lines. Bright orange life jackets were being handed out quickly and life boats were being lowered slowly over the side of the ship. Mia suddenly heard a scream.

"My God!"

Mia could almost feel the wave gain height, rise up in front of them, then plunge. Water gushed down the deck and Mia could see blurry white shapes and orange things flailing, carried along by the water then being tossed overboard. Those were people. She grabbed onto a nearby railing, her heart pounding, as the ship dipped forward viciously. Water up to her chest swirled around her, tugging at her to let go and pull her out to sea. She struggled to move. Sheets of cold rain kept slapping her in the face, stinging her eyes, and blinding her.

"Lifeboats-" The voice was cut off. I need to get to a life boat. Weak with effort, she tried to walk, slipping and sliding on the wet deck. Then, suddenly, a thick fog rolled in. Or maybe it was just raining harder. Mia didn't know, but there was a wet mist pressing in around her and she couldn't see the stewards anymore. The voices seemed to get farther and farther away. The ship suddenly rose a little, gaining some height from the water.

Mia took the moment to stagger forward, but another wave was already on it's way. It swept over the ship, one loud roar, taking everything in it's path. Mia tried to grab onto the railing again, but this time the water won. She screamed as the wave took her body and threw her into the ocean. Suddenly she was underwater, and it was dark all around her.

She didn't know which way was up. She felt around blindly, her lungs about to burst. She could feel the current tugging at her, pulling on her legs, and trying to drown her. She kicked with all her might, and shot to the surface. Coughing up water, she fought to stay afloat.

She thought she saw a flash of orange a few feet away and paddled over weakly. It was a person, floating face-down. A young girl by the look of the long hair swirling in the water. Mia bit down the scream rising to her lips and groped at the water, trying to get away, horrified. Another wave suddenly went over her head, leaving her choking and spitting up water again. Her legs were killing her. She couldn't kick for much longer. She looked for the ship again, but couldn't find it in the pouring rain and mist. Thunder roared in the distance, and a flash of lightning suddenly illuminated the sky. Her head was pounding, and she felt nauseous.

I'm going to die.… I'm going to drown in the middle of the Caribbean sea because of a tropical storm that no one warned us about. She wondered wildly about sharks. Would she be eaten by sharks? The movie Jaws came back to her full force and she nearly fainted. Sharks, I'm going to be eaten by sharks, my legs are exposed in the water...

She was losing it. Someone had once told her that people who went mental didn't know they'd gone mental. They were wrong. She could feel her mind begin to fog up, and it became difficult to breath. Rain poured down on her unceasingly, and her body started to go numb. Everything was just going blurry when she caught sight of a flash of white. Hope sparked in her, but what she'd witnessed earlier held her back.

She caught sight of it again; it was drifting closer now. Mia decided to take the chance. She tried desperately to swim forward, but the water rose and dipped, vicious and black, all around her.

A wave pushed her under again, and she came up gasping. The white thing was being tossed and turned by the water in front of her. Suddenly it came into full view. It was a life boat. She almost cried with joy. She swam up to it, and using all her energy pushed it right side up. Then she grabbed the edge and pulled herself in. A canvas protecting sheet still attached, hung bedraggled over the side of the boat.

Mia clawed at it, and managed to cover herself with it entirely. Then she curled up on the bottom of it. Every time the boat rocked precariously, she thought she was going to capsize. Every time it dipped, she thought she'd drown. She hid under the canvas, feeling every sway of every wave, praying they were drifting away from the storm.

She didn't want to see the horrible waves, or the hurricane in the distance, if that's where it still was. And if she saw another body… Mia wondered whether she was going into shock. She tried to stay awake, so if the boat did tip, she could at least try to swim, but her mind was getting hazier. She didn't know how much time had passed, but her will to live had left her. She didn't care anymore. The ocean could have her.

And finally, exhausted, she let herself sleep.