Copyright © Alexa Silver, 2014
“Ahh!” A woman’s startled yell broke through Max Hawthorn’s self-pity on Christmas Eve morning. He jumped up, pounded down the deck stairs, and raced across the tightly packed sand to the edge of the water. He staggered once, clutching his head for a precious moment before the world righted itself.
“Where are you? Wave your hands so I can see you!” The waters of this secluded California beach weren’t known for sharks but that didn’t mean there was no danger. Rip currents, drowning, even jellyfish could render a swimmer incapacitated. And in late December, the water was downright cold. What the hell was she doing out there?
“Help!” Her voice was stronger now. Was she closer? He scanned the waves, searching for any break in the relatively calm waters.
There she was. Twenty yards down the beach, about fifty yards out. He ran as best he could, his head pounding with every step. What am I doing? But he knew. As long as he still had some strength, he would help this person. A few weeks or months on and he would be forced to let a stranger die, but his body wasn’t quite gone yet.
He waded into the chilly water, lunging toward the bobbing head. The voice hadn’t said anything in a couple of minutes but one arm flailed and her head was clearly visible above the waves.
“I’m coming for you! Keep holding on!”
Max broke the water in an awkward half dive and stroked toward her, the cold shock working against him on all levels. His head was spinning and he started to gray out a couple of times before his head cleared.
He reached the woman in a couple of minutes and locked his hands around her wrist. This part would be the hardest of all. He had to somehow tow her in, despite the pounding of his head, the dizziness that caused his vision to darken around the edges.