"Hey Reef, seen any sharks lately?" someone shouted from under the pier.
An explosion of laughter erupted from the cluster of teenage girls who were floating nearby, legs dangling carelessly into the water.
Reef faked a laugh, then jumped off the pier, into Lake Chawle - the largest for a hundred miles. "I should've asked to visit Aunt Dana for the summer..." he thought, as he swam towards the far shore.
Halfway there, he checked his location. The bright orange canoes were right where he expected them to be.
"Maybe I still could. I know Mom and Dad want me to spend the summer here and try to make friends before school. But I miss the ocean..."
Once on the far shore, he took to the woods. Following a faintly marked trail, he was soon immersed in a different world. "At least there are some cool trails around here!"
About a mile further, the trail branched again. Reef chose the one that looked older. At the end, it opened into a small, overgrown clearing. "Wow, an old cabin. I bet it was around in pioneer days. Too bad it's all fallen in."
He walked around the area, and found the remains of a smaller structure. It would have been invisible except for a single piece of rough hewn wood covered in moss. "This must have been a shed, or maybe a shelter for a horse or something."
"What's this?" he asked, feeling something in the soft earth under his bare foot.
After a little digging, he was holding a metal disc about the size of a quarter. Blending in perfectly, it was a miracle that he had managed to find it by feel.
"It looks like gold. And there's a picture of some long-necked creature on it. Cool! I'll have to get a chain that fits through the little hole."
Reef tucked the unusual medallion into the small pocket in his swimming trunks, and continued to explore.
The next morning, he walked down the deserted pier, preparing for an early swim. The now gleaming medallion hung from a chain, securely fastened to his neck.
Before Reef got halfway down the pier he became dizzy, and sat hard. The water - and even the pier itself - wrapped around! "This is almost like being inside of a large wave," he marveled.
Choosing to focus on the sky in the center, instead of the swirling surroundings, he noticed that it seemed much too bright for morning.
Slowly the world stopped spinning, and the sky returned to its rightful place. Instead of the pier, the young man found himself sitting on a spit of sand. The pier and summer cabins were gone, but the lake and shoreline were identical. Five deer grazed peacefully in a nearby meadow.
Above, a hot noonday sun beat down. The white, puffy cloud in the distance promised limited relief.
He gasped. "This is impossible!"
A few seconds later the water rippled, and a gigantic head lifted out of the water. The creature's long, snake-like neck seemed as tall as a skyscraper.
Before he could move, or even scream, it grabbed his arm, and dragged him into the water.
Reef had just enough time to take a deep breath before he was taken under. A few seconds later, his feet brushed the bottom of Lake Chawle.
Just as fast, he was tossed back on the spit. For several minutes, he could only stare at the glassy surface of the water.
"I'm alive... and I'm not even hurt," he whispered, looking at the unblemished skin on his arm.
Then it was back. But this time, the creature kept its head low. After regarding him for a few seconds, it dragged itself onto the beach, in much the same way that a giant sea lion might.
After flopping down next to Reef, it promptly fell asleep in the hot sun.
Stunned, he stood up, and carefully touched the smooth, warm hide.
The creature opened one eye for a second, but didn't move.
"This is incredible... but how do I get home?" he asked the sleepy animal.
It didn't respond, and he began to walk around. Not finding any clues on shore, he began to make his way back out on the spit.
As soon as he was close to the same spot where it all started, the world began to wrap around him again. This time he remained on his feet.
When everything was still, it was morning again. And he was standing on the pier, gazing at the neat little cabins.
"Was I dreaming?" he wondered.
He repeated the process three more times. "It's an invisible portal to another world!"
Then Reef heard rustling in the bushes, on the edge of the woods.
He crept close, and saw a piece of red cloth. He laid flat on his stomach in the cool grass, and waited.
Then he heard a voice, soft and soothing. "That's right, drink it all. Good girl."
Reef crawled forward, and saw a guy around his age. He was holding a baby bottle in one hand, and stroking a small fawn with the other.
He sat up, careful not to startle the small animal. It looked at him with round, liquid eyes.
The young man noticed him a split second later, and protectively put the fawn in his lap. "Please, you can't tell anyone. There are too many orphaned fawns for the rangers to find places for."
Reef smiled, trying to reassure him. "Your secret 's safe with me. But what would they do with it?" he asked.
He put his forehead to the baby's head, then said "I called and said I'd seen an orphaned fawn. They told me to keep an eye on it, the mom's likely to come back. They said if she didn't to call back, but not to touch it. They said they would take care of it humanely, but there were more orphans than licensed volunteers."
"Won't they just teach you, and let you take care of it?" Reef asked.
He ran his hands through his hair, then began plucking blades of grass. "I asked, and they said deer that are used to people can be a big problem. I would need special training, and the right facilities."
"Don't worry, nothing's going to happen to this little girl. My name's Reef, by the way. Reef Rocket."
"I'm Mark. Mark Lannes. How did you get such a cool name?" he asked, extending his hand.
Reef grimaced. "When I was five, I was surfing alone for the first time. I saw a Great White shark in back of me. Instead of taking the long but safe way back to the beach, I headed for the reef. I caught a small but powerful wave, and people said that I looked just like a rocket speeding through there. The name stuck," he said with a shrug.
"Awesome! I wish I had a cool name like that."
Reef sighed. "Careful what you wish for. Around here everyone jokes about it."
"I think it's great. Don't listen to them!"
"Thanks. Let's get this baby somewhere safe. I'll help you hide her where nobody can ever find her. But first you have to promise to keep my secret," Reef offered with a grin.
Without a word, Mark nodded. He picked up the fawn, and Reef put his hand on her head, and led the way towards the pier.
To be continued
Cover image made in Canva Pro using an image by @tattoodjay