The Paper Swan
Author:Leylah Attar

It was the prayer that had saved me. Or doomed me. I couldn’t decide which.

Damian had gone back to watching his line, supremely confident that I wouldn’t do something as stupid as try to drown myself. His gaze was focused on some invisible spot on the horizon.

I looked through the railing and followed the flight of sea gulls as they caught an air current and rode it to the shore.

The shore.

I blinked.

For the first time in days, I could see land. We weren’t heading towards it, we were running parallel to it, but I could make out trees and small structures and the glint of glass.

What do you do, Skye?

My eyes searched the deck.

I grab the fire extinguisher and bash his brains out.

I stood up slowly and made my way towards the shiny red cylinder.

Damian had his back to me so he didn’t see it coming. I swung at him and felt an odd thrill at the sound of metal colliding against bone as it slammed into his jaw. KLUNK. His head flopped to one side and the fishing rod clattered to the floor. I hit him again, attacking the other side, and knocked him clean off the chair. He toppled over, back curled, limbs drawn to his chest, nursing his head between his hands.

That’s right, asshole. How does it feel to be on the other side?

I was ready to whack him again when he went limp. His hands fell away and his face turned expressionless. I kicked him a few times, disappointed when he didn’t respond. My hands were shaking and there was a wild beast within, a beast that wanted to pound and pound and pound the fire extinguisher into his face until his eyes and nose and lips turned into a bloody, scrambled mess. I didn’t want him to go so easily. I wanted him to suffer.

I stopped, realizing that’s exactly what he’d said about my father:

I just want him to feel it. I want him to suffer.

I was caught up in the same cycle, feeding the same monster. I was turning into Damian, thinking like him, acting like him, becoming a slave to the same dark, powerful emotions. It scared the hell out of me because even knowing that, I still held the fire extinguisher high over my head, wanting nothing more than to bring it down on Damian, again and again.

Vengeance only begets more vengeance, more chaos, more darkness. Vengeance abducts us and imprisons us and mutilates us, and we suffer and suffer until we unravel its probing parasitic suckers from around us.

I took a deep, steadying breath and let go of the fire extinguisher. When I could think clearly, I searched Damian. I knew he had a phone, but it wasn’t on him. I ran to the deckhouse and started rifling through it. There was a steering station with panels for electronics and engine instrumentation, a chart table, seating area, and a mahogany entertainment center. I pulled all the drawers open. Roasted peanuts rolled around. Snacks, papers, maps, life jackets, a flashlight. No phone. I stared at the one drawer that was locked. It had to be there. It had to.

“Looking for this?” Damian staggered in, dangling the key before me.

Fuck.

He wasn’t dead. He’d passed out and I’d been too busy to notice when he’d come around. He was like a ten-headed hydra. You cut off one head and he just keeps coming. I should have flattened his face into a bloody pancake.

I fled out the other door. I was still faster than he was. He plodded after me, clutching his head. I climbed the ladder to the roof of the deckhouse. If I could launch the rubber dinghy off it, I could get to shore. It was secured to some kind of pole and bolted down with ropes and hooks. I started tugging on one of hooks. It was halfway unlatched when I saw Damian’s fingers grasp the top rung of the ladder. I tugged harder.

His head cleared the top.

I was almost there. But even if I managed to free the dinghy before Damian caught up to me, the cover was stretched tight across, and I had no idea how to start the engine.

Damian hoisted himself over the ladder.

I was out of time. I ran to the edge of the roof. We were closer to the piece of land jutting out in the horizon.

I was a strong swimmer.

I could make it.

I heard the thud of Damian’s foot as he climbed on the roof.

I took a deep breath and dived into the water.

The salt water set my severed finger on fire. I came up, gasping for air. Damian was looking down at me from the boat, an ominous shadow against the backdrop of white clouds—an unsteady ominous shadow. He was struggling to stay on his feet.

Good. I got him good.

I oriented myself with the horizon and started swimming towards land. The water was much colder than I anticipated, but it was calm and the adrenaline was pumping through my veins with each breath I took. I had gone a good distance before I looked back.

The boat was in the same spot and Damian was nowhere in sight. Maybe he’d figured it best to let me go. Maybe it was enough that my father had really experienced my death, felt it, suffered. Whatever his reason, Damian chose not to follow me.

I resumed my strokes. 1, 2, 3, breathe. 1, 2, 3, breathe. I paused after what felt like an eternity, and looked up. I didn’t seem to be any closer to the shoreline. Distances are tricky in the water—what seems like a short distance can take hours. I kicked off my pants, and kept swimming and breathing and swimming and breathing. When the pain in my finger started to subside, I realized my extremities were going numb. I stopped to catch my breath.

The boat was still visible and Damian had now resumed fishing.

Un-fucking-believable. Shouldn’t he be bleeding out from a concussion or fleeing for safety? My father was going to unleash the hounds of hell on him.

I had gone a few more paces when I froze. There was something in the water, a few feet away. It broke through the surface and I caught sight of a black fin. It disappeared, but I could feel its dark form circling around me.

Fuck.

No wonder Damian hadn’t bothered coming after me. We were in shark-infested waters, and I had jumped in with a bandage soaked with blood.