Water splashed up everywhere as four pairs of feet hit the sea almost simultaneously. A breeze stirred the leaves on the trees, and whipped the girls’ hair softly. The water was shockingly clear and the sun was shining brightly in the sky, resulting in a perfect beach day.
The four of them: Jade, Lucas, Seeca and Ming, half-ran, half-waded through the water till it was deep enough, then they threw themselves bodily into the sea, relishing the feeling of being immersed in water. They were all as different as could be; Jade was sporty, athletic, and won almost every sport event at her university. Lucas was studying science and was always very, very curious about how things worked. Seeca liked reading and was always found with a book in hand, and Ming was a nurse by profession. But they all bonded over their love for the sea.
Living in different places all over the world, it was only fate that brought them together 5 years ago on a beach in Australia. They exchanged phone numbers after a day of surfing, and since then made plans to visit a new beach together each year. This time, they found themselves at a lesser-known beach in the Seychelles.
Naturally competitive, Jade challenged the others to a swimming race. They took turns competing in threes, and Jade beat Lucas and Seeca, but not Ming. Ming didn’t look it, but he was strong and fast in the water. Jade thanked the heavens that Ming wasn’t in her university; he would break her winning streak in a heartbeat. Disgruntled and tired, Jade pointed to a collection of flattish rocks nearby and showed a hand gesture that they understood as “I need to rest”.
They all followed her as she swam over to the rocks, and as they were hauling themselves up, Jade started to speak to Lucas, but Lucas didn’t answer her. Jade thought that Lucas was too out-of-breath to answer her, so she turned to look for him, wanting to tease him about his bad stamina. Lucas wasn’t there. Scrambling to the top of the rocks as fast as she could, she scanned the surroundings in a 360-degree turn, but Lucas was nowhere to be found. Fear gripped her heart as she told Seeca and Ming that Lucas was missing. Seeca continued to climb up, but Ming released his hold and dropped back into the sea, trying to search for him in the water.
Ming retraced their watery path, and noticed a dull, red glow in the distance, emitting from what seemed like a rock pool. Inwardly cursing Lucas’ curiosity and eagle-eyes, Ming whistled and signalled for the girls to come over. They had an uneasy feeling about the red glow, but knowing Lucas, he had most probably shot off in that direction as soon as he saw it, not pausing to analyse why there was a red light in a rock pool, never mind mention it to them.
As they approached the red glow cautiously, the feeling of unease grew. The red glow practically shouted stay away! And stay away was all they wanted to do, but they had to check. For Lucas. As they peered into the rock pool, they realised that the source of light was actually underwater, not on the surface. A bunch of floriferous plants were tangled together, and in the middle of it all, like a beating heart, was a pulsing, blinking mass of red something. Seeca was going to suggest that they run, get help, find out what it was, but before she could, three vines shot out and coiled themselves around one person each, and pulled them directly into the “heart”.
All was scarlet for a few seconds, then their vision cleared. They were in a jungle. A strip of fabric from Lucas’ swimshorts was looped around a tree nearby. The whole place was supposed to radiate serenity, and it did at first, but there was also an underlying minatory presence. Somewhere, someone screamed.