A gay paranormal mystery/suspense novella
2017 BEST GAY MEN’S FICTION AWARD – G/G Goodreads’ Reading Group
A lone gnat buzzed about Jonathan’s face. He swiped the air in frustration, more at Paul than with irritation at the pest. He had agitated the insect, which fought to escape and yet managed to fly up his nostril. He plugged the side of his nose and tried to flush the pest without success. Finally, and with apprehension, he swallowed to clear his throat.
Driven by need deeper than thirst, Jonathan ducked inside through the doorway of the single-story cottage and crossed the threshold to the parlor of the west wing, filled with nautical trimmings and reproduced coastal collections. He tore past the cold fireplace and a sofa draped with an old patchwork quilt. The antique double-door bar cabinet nestled in the far corner reminded him of the days his mother had carted him through the vintage shops peppering the Southeastern Coast. In spite of his mood, he smiled at the memories. He snatched a fresh bottle of booze from the shelf below, tossed a couple cubes of ice into his glass, and filled it half-full of scotch.
Jonathan slugged the beverage, refilled his glass, and then shuffled to the floor-to-ceiling windows facing inland. He thought about being stood up by Paul, the knot in his chest traveling up his neck like a hand closing around his throat. Typical. Paul had become more distant of late and the excuses he tried to pass off seemed contrived at best. They were nearing the end of the relationship, perhaps. Jonathan didn’t know anymore, and it drove him crazy.
Stop with the melodramatics, Jonathan chided himself as he sipped his drink and stepped out onto the porch again. He set his cocktail on the railing, reached high above his head, and stretched his arms before crossing them over his chest and gripping his shoulders. The ocean breeze caressed him as he watched the waves rolling in, whitecaps bustling with the fury of stampeding cattle before crashing headlong into shore. Why did it bother him this much? Should he be surprised Paul chose career goals over their relationship yet again? Jonathan should have seen it coming months ago, but he’d ignored the signs, desperate to rekindle the passion slipping away after years of happiness.
A large cargo ship sailed in line of the horizon. Seagulls and pelicans floated along the shoreline searching for food. Jonathan dreamed of a relationship devoid of friction and financial strain, absent of business dinners filled with false hope and weekend interruptions. He savored his career as a successful scriptwriter, but he abhorred the Hollywood lifestyle.
His drink empty, Jonathan began to turn when something caught his eye. Glancing beyond the beach, he scanned the ocean’s surface searching the whitecaps. Someone was bobbing and swirling about in wide circular motions, dipping beneath the waves and resurfacing. Jonathan observed the head and shoulders of a man who seemed to be struggling to remain above the surface. Adrenaline shot through him like a bullet and panic clutched his chest.
He’s in trouble!
Jonathan scanned the beach for help. A few beachcombers walked in either direction along the sand, some strolling hand in hand, as others huddled in groups with a child or two darting out from the pack to race toward the water’s edge. No one seemed to notice the swimmer in distress. Most followed their downcast eyes, searching the beach for the ocean’s treasures washed up in the tide.
Jonathan raced toward the water’s edge and kicked off his loafers, flailing his arms and screaming trying to attract attention. He ripped off his shirt as he ran, the fabric falling behind in the sand. Pausing to strip off his slacks, he trudged into the sea.
Waves battered him in violent succession, pushing him back, forcing him to lift his knees high to stab his feet into the water to stay righted. When the water reached his hips, Jonathan dove headlong into the churning surf. The smack of cold water against his face and chest sobered him as he pinwheeled his arms through the strong current toward the struggling swimmer.
Where did he go? Jonathan eased up to get his bearings, dogpaddling around and looking for the man. He called out, “Can you hear me? I’m here to help.” He swiveled his head back and forth, searching for the swimmer.
I’ve gone too far, he thought. Jonathan whipped around, turning back toward the beach. The cottage stood farther up the beach than his current position. Fearing the swimmer had disappeared beneath the surface, Jonathan ducked below the water and aimed his body deep, opening his eyes to take a quick peek. The sting of the saltwater forced his lids shut and he retreated.
Jonathan angled his body upward and kicked his feet hard against the strong current. Reaching the surface proved elusive, as the undertow sucked him down. Disoriented and terrified, his lungs begging for air, Jonathan clawed at the wall of seawater to no avail. No matter where he aimed, he couldn’t find the surface. The harder he fought the farther down he sank. Desperate for oxygen, his heart pounding, Jonathan’s life flashed before him.
Is this it? Am I doomed to be another tragic drowning?
Jonathan drifted into a quiet calm from lack of air, his thoughts a random jumble. Why had he charged forth in the first place, foolish considering all the alcohol? What about Paul? Would he be stunned to learn of his death, perhaps feel guilty about refusing to join him sooner? Would his family ever forgive his carelessness?
His chest compressed, expressing the last bit of air from his lungs. He wrestled an onslaught of convulsions as brackish seawater invaded his nose and mouth, his lungs. Arms and legs became lead. He lashed out, each stroke pulling him down until he finally hit the ocean floor.
The undertow snatched him away as his awareness waned. He lashed out in a futile attempt to right himself but grasped onto something slick and supple instead. His fingers slid over the soft object.
Something large and powerful slammed into him from behind. He felt an incredible tug against his body, a whoosh that snapped him back like a bungee cord before he blacked out.
Island myth, or guarded secret…destiny lures Jonathan home.
Jonathan’s ten-year relationship with Paul has lost its spark, so in a last-ditch effort to rekindle the passion they once shared, Jonathan rents a seaside cottage in his boyhood hometown; Tybee Island, Georgia, a quaint, tiny coastal islet he abandoned more than a decade or so ago.
But, the romantic surprise backfires royally when his partner rushes off to woo a high-profile client in Chicago, leaving Jonathan alone and broken-hearted. While killing his pain with loads of alcohol the afternoon of his arrival on the beach, nothing seems to ease the gut-wrenching pain.
That’s when Jonathan notices a swimmer caught in a riptide, desperate to stay afloat. Without hesitation, the west coast transplant races to the water’s edge, trudging through seawater before diving headlong into the raucous surf. Soon, he too, falls victim to the fierce undertow, struggling to reach the surface and fearing the worst.
Then a mighty force slams into him from behind, causing him to blackout. When he regains consciousness, Jonathan realizes he is surrounded by horrified beachcombers, all staring at his half-naked body.
How did Jonathan get to shore?
What happened to the drowning man?
And, who is the mysterious old woman gaping at him from afar?
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