Genre: YA Paranormal Comedy
Word Count: Approx. 52,000
It's finally here! My tenth novel that Brian Williams interrupted your local broadcasting to announce.
I'm writing this, the only time I've ever, for National Novel Writing Month (UPDATE: NATIONAL NOVEL WRITING BINGE PARTY!! WHOO. No seriously it's been two years now).
(SECOND UPDATE: Yeah I finally finished. Shut up).
Synopsis: Markham Brody is sucked through water pipes like a goldfish and popped into a frothing tank. It's his portal into a fantastical ship populated by both human and not-so-human passengers, cities, sixty bizarre decks, and a worshiping reverence for the mysterious, unknown "Captain" manning the helm. Since Markham remembers nothing of his life before floating at sea, The Blue Star Line is about to become his world. But for Nina, the young, intensely droll and spontaneous servant who's assigned to his adjustment, it's always been. She tugs and pulls Markham into a fiery, dizzying romance within moments of setting eyes on him. Although attracted to her, Markham can't credit himself for her attention; he thinks it's fear. No word has come from the Captain in three months, and the First Mate, his prophet, has disappeared. Gang lords begin to take over, threatening to erode the ship into a nightmarish shadow of its former self, and Nina, desperate for hope to prevail, drags Markham into a search for the ambiguous Captain once and for all. Home - wherever that once must have been - is far from Markham's reality as the ride through sea proves no pleasure cruise, and what he checked himself into will never check him out.
Water sloshed against his ears. Sunlight rang like flashes off a diamond into his eyes, and his soaked clothes billowed around his limbs.
Markham Brody. The name passed like billboards on headlights through his mind again and again as he slapped the water.
Markham gasped. Foam rolled over his shoulders and he jerked his head around. No boat swayed over crests, no logs of grey sat on the horizon. The sky was like a dirty smock; sunset splattering dark, muddy colors on the surface of the water and sprinkling stars into its mirror.
In a few moments, he would swallow water instead of spit, he would –
Something snatched him from beneath and hurled him under.
Bubbles streamed from his mouth. Current jetted him hundreds of feet in seconds, as if flushed down a toilet.
And then his shoulder banged into something hard. And another. Pinging like a pinball back and forth against firm material and still whooshing through bubbles with speed like a goldfish through pipes. His lungs began to burn, muscles tightening and folding in upon themselves.
Just as he flexed out his fingers in pain, he was burped to the…
Froth churned around him like a hot tub and he gasped, eyes tightly closed. Like planks of wood, other fish burst to the surface of the tank: strange, flat-as-pancakes fish, fish with bodies riddled like chain link fences, purple, red, one the size of a large pig. They flopped against the water with blank eyes, open mouths and flapping gills.
Over the rim of leaping seawater and through salt-stung eyes Markham saw the copper gleam of pots and pans lining shelves, heard the scrape and clank of kitchenware at work. Steam furled into the air and he caught glimpses of white-clad shoulders and tall hats walking between the counters.
He pressed his palm to the glass before him. Yes. He was in a tank.
Hands plunged into the water next to him, hauling out two yellow-and-orange fish that slapped each other with such ferocity that droplets sprang into Markham’s eyes, like chickens panicking before slaughter. On the other side different hands dove down, and then more, all pulling out the harvested fish.
A strong hand grabbed him.
Exclamations of alarm resounded as he seemed to birth from the water, huge and heavy and human. He flopped down on the floor, the foam from the tank bubbling over onto his head. For a few seconds he felt like the fish, mouth open, blinking madly, choking down swallows every time his heart skipped.
Around him chefs chattered and argued, their language woven with such overlapping it was impossible to tell whether they spoke English or not. Cooks jumped back as flame pounced into the air, trellises of grease hissed, rows and rows of boiling pots teetered their lids and running sinks seethed a symphony.
But Markham’s mouth snapped closed on sight of the monster. His eyes widened, all shuddering ceased.
It stood across the kitchen, listening intently to another human. Its claws were clasped behind its back. A Jurassic tail crept from its white coat, a chef’s hat on its scaly green head.
And then the bipedal crocodile heard the commotion, turned his head towards Markham.
His heart stopped.
Its eyes held him, black as beads. Without unclasping its claws, it moved slowly towards Markham.
The other chefs backed away at the mutant crocodile’s approach with either fear or respect, but definitely the former for Markham, leaving him sopping on the floor beneath the tank.
A puff of air from the beast’s wide, green snout blew down towards Markham. Those marble black eyes stared into him for several long beats, and Markham felt already eaten, already pumped through its stomach, already stolen into the reptile’s being.
Slowly, the crocodile lifted him to his feet with both claws; firm, effortless strength.
Markham opened his eyes.
The monster was still, in the way only a reptile could be, but its pupil-less eyes darted back and forth over him with unnerving humanity and calculation. Markham breathed in the crocodile’s scent; a musty jasmine like the inside of an antique jewelry box.
And then, the crocodile braced Markham on either shoulder and dropped his jaw in what could only be a grin, eyes bright. Markham breathed hard.
Just as the beast raised one claw towards his head, another, darker, browner claw snatched it down and Markham jumped.
Nearly a foot taller stood what must have been the reptile’s brother, cousin, twisted uncle. It glared at Markham from over the shoulder of its kin, eyes black but kindling fire somehow, scales chafed and running all over with scars or perhaps shedding. Unlike the chef crocodile, it wore black and no hat.
Affronted, the green crocodile turned its long snout towards the other, and they communicated in strange, guttural noises, neck muscles tensing now and then. The brown one’s dinosaur-like claw tightened around the green one, shifting its eyes to him as if in warning. And then, with one more glare at Markham, it dropped to its belly and streaked away, zigzagging with lightning speed the way a lizard does and climbing the wall in the same way, escaping into an open vent, tail swishing once before disappearing.
Markham’s breath hitched in his chest and did not release.
Slowly the crocodile chef turned its eyes back to Markham, pausing with a swallow as if to apologize. It glanced once to the black vent and then relaxed, opening its jaw joyfully once more, a little less wide. It lifted a claw and waved Markham into the kitchen.
All the humans…did they not mind? Was this normal? They watched him with bizarre, perplexed fascination, but were unperturbed by the crocodile brothers. Markham dragged his gaze over them almost pleadingly, but, finding no response, followed the crocodile.
Tinier claws thumped on a silver table as he walked, scaly feet wagging beneath the surface. Two baby crocodiles watched his passing with bright excitement, jaws open, but not in the jovial fashion of the master chef, with…
One pointed at Markham with its fork.
The back of the chef’s claw whacked over the little crocodile. The babies scrambled over their seats, growled and chirped deep in their throats, but the tall, green crocodile branded them with a scolding look, a frown cutting down over his jagged mouth.
The Master Chef turned to a human apprentice and indicated to Markham and then to the far, porthole door, grunting things in reptilian. The human apprentice nodded.
“Yes, Master Gavial. I’ll fetch her immediately.”
He placed down a set of knives and moved for the porthole door.
“Fetch –?” began Markham, but it was futile. Master Gavial only turned an eye to him, rolling it around and around over him. But his – no longer “its” – silence was benevolent. Markham’s fear around the reptile subsided, pursing his lips and shifting his weight instead. Any minute…back in his bed…he’ll wake…
No. Don’t wake. Never wake. Markham stumbled and steadied himself on the counter.
The apprentice returned through the swinging metal door, a woman in his wake.
Slender and dark haired, her smooth, tight skin shone with either luster or exertion, a single delicate dark freckle on her shoulder. Sparsely beaded pearl necklace around her neck. No more than nineteen. He picked up every detail. A servers’ apron wrapped around her waist and she held her head high, not in pride but defense, scanning the entire kitchen; familiar but wary. Endangered but knowing what to do about it.
Her hazel eyes met Markham’s instantly, and he stared, feeling his breath slop like an ice cube through the drain. But she tore hers away without any reciprocation, looking at Mater Gavial.
“How did this –?”
Master Gavial said something in chirps and grunts, indicating the door again.
The young woman blinked. And then she shook her head. Moving over to Markham.
“Come on,” she said.
He glanced at her left hand as it grasped the soaking clothes of his shoulder, realizing it was missing its ring finger. Her words were breathy and filled with true trepidation, loud enough for only his ear.
“You have no idea what you’re in for.”
Thanks to Anne Seltzer for the photo of the button, which I now own.