The treehouse had been built sometime after Hurricane Andrew. Sam knew about it because his dad had taken him diving off the spot many times. From there it was about a forty-minute swim out to where the nurse sharks nested.
Ruddy pointed up to the second floor of the treehouse. “That’s where I’m going to fuck Wendy Johansen. I’ve fucked my share, but when I just think of those big milky tits, I swear I get a pretty rough semi,” he said.
Sam tried not to look embarrassed. He was only in Miami for the summers. Since last summer, Ruddy had been going on and on about sex and fucking. Since Ruddy was a year older than Sam and he was maturing faster, it seemed only natural that he would be more at ease with this sort of talk. Sam looked up, though, and saw the spot. He had to admit, it was a nice place to have sex with a girl.
It was strange, a fifteen-year-old and a sixteen-year-old talking about fucking in a treehouse. But this wasn’t any ordinary treehouse. It was a treehouse someone had built on Miami harbor in the back of a park complex. A place that could only be reached after a twenty-minute walk through the weeds. Someplace secluded that, to their knowledge, only a few people had ever discovered.
“She’s something else, huh?” was the only thing Sam could think to say.
“Heaven man. If you went to my school, you’d know. They develop nicely.”
“Not at mine. Shit. I hate New Mexico. Don’t know why my family ever moved out there. The girls there have serious problems with upper-lip hair.”
Sam loved the quiet of the ocean. In everyday life, his thoughts were often scattered, but in the deep silence of the ocean with only his mask and snorkel that silence became something other-worldly. Images and thoughts came clearly.
Sam and Ruddy were in the water and began rinsing out their masks and snorkels. Sam was surprised that Ruddy even bothered coming. They had been friends for a long time, but every summer he came to visit, it seemed like Ruddy wanted less and less to do with him. Ruddy grew older, cooler, more handsome. Sam seemed just about the same as when he left several odd years ago after his first year of middle school. Sam had grown awkward and inward, and Ruddy grew popular and outgoing. At least that’s how it seemed to Sam.
Ruddy looked at Sam. “I’ll follow you, okay?” he said.
They swam through the shallows, the dirty murky parts where it was hard to see. There was about ten minutes before they hit the clear ocean. Until then, they had to lurk through dirty, brackish water.
Ruddy came out of the water. “Hold up,” he said. “I took in a mouthful of that shitty water.”
Sam waited for him.
“Just let me know when you’re ready.”
When they hit the open water Sam began to dream. In his mind, he thought of a science fiction epic. A tribe of lost boys living in houses on stilts out in the bay, away from the zombies, because the zombies couldn’t swim.
He imagined himself and Ruddy with spears, spearfishing for survival. Then one day they see a zombie in the water.
The zombies had learned how to swim. One was approaching them. Then another, and another.
“Ruddy,” he said. “The zombies! Since when did they learn how to swim?”
“Sam, what are we supposed to do?”
They couldn’t make it back to their stilt house without going through them.
“Aim for their brains!”
They swam for the zombies, their spears at the ready. When the first one came, they both plunged their spear into its head.
He heard something. It was Ruddy. He was calling for Sam. Sam swam to him.
“Where’d you go?” Ruddy asked.
“I was just over there. About fifteen yards away.”
“I couldn’t see you. I think there’s water leaking into my mask.”
Sam took it from Ruddy and examined it. “How are your fins doing?”
“Good. Here. Let’s switch masks.”
Sam tried out Ruddy’s mask.
“I was calling your name for a good ten minutes but you didn’t seem to hear.”
“Sorry about that. I must’ve been focused on a turtle or something.”
“A sea turtle?”
It was harder to get a seal on his mask, but the leakage wasn’t very bad.
“So, this Wendy girl, is she a senior?”
“Junior. Single. Totally gettable. That’s where we’ll fuck. Right in that treehouse. You fucked many women?”
“Feel bad for you, bra. Just so you know, at my school, you’d get your ass beat for even owning up to something like that.”
“Ready to keep going?”
The sea was silent. This time Sam made sure to look back and check on Ruddy to make sure he was keeping up. On the way to the shark’s nest, they saw things. A sea turtle, a ray. Sam imagined what Wendy looked like. He imagined some girl with long purple hair and ripe breasts, fitting into a tight tank top with some cool punk band spread across her chest. He would lean over to read the name and ask her, “Are they coming for a concert anytime soon?” Yeah, he was missing out by not living in Miami.
The water suddenly became much deeper. Sam would dive down to see what he could find. Ruddy was a pretty good swimmer, but for some reason, he didn’t want to follow him down.
Sam felt a tap on his shoulder. He went up to the surface of the water.
“Did you see anything?”
“Nah, just sponges.”
“That ray we saw was pretty cool.”
“Just wait until we see the shark’s nest.”
They kept swimming and instinctively Sam knew that it was around that spot. Before there had been a branch sticking up. Now, he couldn’t see anything. He looked back and tried to line up the spot using the treehouse.
He tried imagining himself as an explorer looking for treasure.
There was a glittering in the dirt. Sam dove down and Ruddy followed. As they reached toward the glittering gold, Sam could see the bones of long-dead pirates.
Ruddy reached down and grabbed one of the gold coins. As the expert in old Spanish coins, Ruddy was always the first to examine the gold. But just as he was examining it, a bony hand reached up from the dirt and grabbed his hand.
Sam took out his knife and began hacking at the bones. How long would Ruddy be able to hold his breath? Thirty more seconds? A minute at most?
One second…two seconds…
Ruddy came up for air again. “Are you sure it’s here?”
“Just keep your eyes open.”
He found it. The branch was submerged underwater so he hadn’t seen it. Instinct had helped him find it.
It began to drizzle a little. Sam found Ruddy not too far away.
“Hey, it’s beginning to rain,” Ruddy said.
“We should be alright as long as there isn’t lightning. Come on. I found it.”
He led Ruddy there. They kept their distance. A good ten or twelve yards away. They swam and watched.
There were three nurse sharks under the tree branch. They were big. One was at least six feet long. The others weren’t much smaller.
Another was circling around the branch. Sam had always been nervous around the larger sea creatures. He could see that Ruddy wasn’t even aware that the creature was nearby. Sam pointed and when Ruddy saw it he was startled. He froze in his spot and Sam watched him.
Finally, when the shark swam back to the nest, Ruddy came up.
“Aw man, that was awesome. I know they’re not dangerous, but shit they’re scary. I think the one that swam up to me was about ten feet long.”
Sam thought about that. Probably no more than seven feet.
They both went back under water. They kept watching from a distance. For a long time, they just watched and none of the other sharks stirred.
The light drizzle was letting up and soon the sun would come out again.
Then Sam saw something, something that made him freeze. It wasn’t a nurse shark. He thought for sure it was a hammerhead. His first thought was that they should bolt. But then, he realized the best thing to do was to keep still. He looked over at Ruddy. He wasn’t sure if he saw it. If he had, it was best not to tell him.
He looked around but didn’t see it.
He swam up to Ruddy very slowly and quietly. They both broke the plane of the water.
“Sorry man, my calf started cramping,” Sam lied. “It’s not such a big deal, but I think we should head back. Slowly, if that’s okay with you.”
“Fuck man, you’re bumming me out. Just when this trip was starting to get good.”
“Yeah, I know. It’s my fault.”
They headed back quietly and Sam kept an eye out for the hammerhead. This time there was no room for imagination. He kept close to Ruddy. On the way, he saw grouper and snapper of every size.
Something in the back of Sam’s mind made him think there was a shadow behind them. Now his imagination was working against him. He was sure there was something behind him, something big. He grabbed Ruddy by the wrist and held him still for a moment. The drizzling had stopped and the sun was out now and whatever was near them cast a shadow. It came up past Sam from behind. Ruddy panicked a little but soon they both saw what it was.
“Holy shit,” Ruddy said. “It’s huge.”
“Pet it while you can.”
“Will it let us?”
“I think so.”
They both swam up and put their hand on the manatee. The big gentle giant suddenly wasn’t in a hurry. Sam looked around for more of them, but there were none to be found. It was all alone.
The manatee king used its telekinetic powers to communicate with Sam and Ruddy.
“By the grace of my mercy, you have been allowed to live. It was I who set the hammerhead shark against you as a test of your virtue. Those who are pure of heart do not run or hide but face its menacing visage directly. You are free to go, but be warned…I am not always so merciful.”
Ruddy and Sam reached the treehouse and sat there for a good while. In another hour and a half or so the sun would begin to set.
“Sucks your calf cramped up.”
“Well, just glad you were with me. Can’t do these things alone, you know.”
“Glad you took me, man. You know it sucks you’re only down in the summers. Next summer, I’ll introduce you to some girls. If I do that for you, you keep taking me snorkeling.”