Deadly Touch - Heather Graham


Thirteen years ago

“Imagine, if you will! There are those who fear the creatures of our great Everglades—not a swamp—but a river of grass, one that houses alligators and in certain places crocodiles, as well. Though, frankly,” the storyteller said, pausing to smile, “the true plague we endure can most often be mammoth mosquitoes. Some think the skunk ape is real. But, my dear friends, I have a tale to tell you that will chill your blood, and that is of the cursed pirates who roam the Everglades. Watch for the sails of their lost ship upon this river of grass for they are doomed to sail it forever!”

Raina found herself feeling as if her blood was somehow chilling even in the almost-warmth of the night. In a few days it would be spring, but a late storm had settled over the north of the country, and here, in the very southern end of the mainland of South Florida, the temperature had dipped to a cool fifty degrees that night. Maybe that was causing the chills?

But the storyteller was good. He was young—maybe eighteen or so. He was extremely good-looking with fantastic cheekbones common in both the Miccosukee and Seminole tribes of Florida, startling gold-green eyes far more common in someone of Northern European descent and a fine smile that wrapped it all up with a rugged charm. But then, she was just going on fourteen. She and her girlfriends were here on a field trip to camp out for a night in the Everglades and had whispered about him and giggled, thinking he was pretty hot. One of the older men—Jeremy Gray, a superfriendly and informative member of the Miccosukee tribe—had given a speech on the effects of people thinking they could “humanely” release pythons and boas in the Everglades and how those predators threatened the natural flow of life there. The danger being that many native species might soon be wiped out.

Raina had been excited about their field trip from the beginning. Yes, she was afraid of killer creatures and not at all fond of mosquitoes, but she had always loved the region, so wild with beautiful birds and a haunting, nostalgic beauty when sunset came.

She loved all of it.

And especially this storyteller. His name was Axel Tiger—a mixture of ethnicity as intriguing as his appearance. She wasn’t sure if he was Miccosukee or Seminole, since both tribes were here to talk about the Everglades and their culture, history and future.

Like the other girls, she just knew that he was hot.

“The pirates were a bloodthirsty crew believed to have been trolling these waters in the late 1600s and into the early years of the 1700s. When a British merchantman came into their sights, they chased it down the coast and through the keys and close to the tip of the mainland where our great sea of grass meets with the bay. They gave no quarter. Hey, they were angry! They had to chase the ship for days! And to that end, they decided the entire crew—left alive after the fierce battle to take her—would walk the plank. The pirate captain especially hated the merchantman captain. The young captain’s wife was aboard, and as he forced her to watch her husband walk the plank—chained at his wrists lest he somehow swim to shore—she looked up to the heavens and cried out, ‘Curse these bloody pirates! Dear Lord above, curse these brutal creatures until the end of time!’”

Axel Tiger was dramatic, stooping low and walking between the campfire and the campers, hands laced behind his back, his eyes alive with mischief.

“And so!” he said suddenly, causing several to jump and then giggle. “The captain’s lady’s words were heard, they say. A mammoth storm rolled across the Atlantic to the Caribbean, and despite the seafaring talents of the pirates, the waves rose and fell and rose and fell...and slam! The pirates—and all their stolen treasure—were rent apart and tossed into the far corners of the air and sea. It’s said that hour by hour, day by day, more bodies piled up on the southern tip of the Glades, trapping the cursed souls of the pirates to roam the waterways and the hammocks, high points and mud and muck and sawgrass. They say sometimes when the moon rises high and even when it does not—even when the glory of the sunset fades into the shadow of night—the pirate ship itself can be seen sailing over our river of grass, the pirates manning her doomed