I knew what
lurked beyond the trees even before I opened the car door: the forbidden, barricaded beach. Even though I lived only a few
miles away, I had never stood so close. Leaning against the car, the wind ruffled my hair as nerves tangled my insides.
“Aren’t you coming, Junior?” Pearl, my date, stood in the moonlight, hands
on her hips, legs apart, making a perfect triangle with her skirt.
my shoulders. “We’re not supposed to be here.”
“There’s no law against
“Let’s go, you two love birds,” Clay said, shining his flashlight on us
for a second before moving on.
“Don’t be scared,” Pearl said. “Just don’t
step in the water, and you’ll be fine.”
I put my already shaky hands into my pants pockets. “I’m
not scared!” It wasn’t that I needed to impress Pearl. I had only agreed to go out with her because no one else
said yes, but I didn’t want a mammoth, cowardly act stamped on my already unimpressive rep. “I just don’t
believe it, that’s all. Have you ever seen it happen?”
“No, but my cousin Fern said
he did. One of his friends dared him to. He ran into the water and changed right before his eyes, and then the sea took him.
He never saw him again.”
This reminded me of all the times my mother had warned me to stay
away from the beach, to stay away from the wild Merfolk. “They took your father. Shameful, cannibalistic creatures,
behaving like animals in that dirty ocean. Immoral and naked. Catching fish with their mouths. It’s shameful. It’s
shameful. They took your father you know…”
“So, let’s go.” Pearl grabbed my hand, and I
allowed her to lead me through the trees. The same salty air I had breathed my entire life now burst with intensity.
After we had caught up with Clay and Iona, we helped each other over the concrete barrier and down into the sand.
I heard the soft roar of the dark waves, its movement the only factor separating it from the sky.
I vaguely heard the others talking behind me before Clay shouted, “No hard feelings, Junior. We just want to
see if it’s true.” They laughed and pushed me until my feet sank into the wet, gushy sand.
Don’t!” I pleaded, already feeling the droplets of ocean spraying my face, before they gave one hard, final shove.
A wave pulled me with it, soaking my pants up to my waist. Fear pushed my voice to a scream.
I screamed for help, screamed for the ocean to let go! Just as the water retreated, I lost my balance and landed on my knees.
Sunken sand tracks, where the kids had run away, came into focus.
I scrambled to dry land before the next wave, trying to catch my senses. Tears filled my
eyes as I remembered the pictures of the hideous beasts that I had been shown since grade school.
I examined my legs and put my hands out in front of me, waiting for it to happen. The change. When I touched my mouth, my
teeth felt normal, not long and pointed like a beast’s.
Relieved and unchanged, except for my belief that I would ever be accepted by kids my age,
I started to walk toward the road. A new sound in the darkness stopped me. Maybe the others didn’t get spooked but are
hiding, waiting to watch me turn into a creature.
“I know you guys are there,” I said meekly, becoming
increasingly concerned with the alien surroundings. I fought the urge to run. I would not let them win. And then a different,
even stronger thought intruded; since I proved the myth untrue, I’ll be like a hero. No one would have to be afraid
of the beach again.
the sound to a pile of drifted sand and tangled weeds. The closer I stepped the more it sounded like a whimper instead of
a snicker. My mouth fell open as my breathing picked up pace. I questioned what I perceived camouflaged in the debris. A woman?
Her long hair, wildly strewn out behind her, mixed with the sand and seaweed. “Hey, are you all right?”
When I noticed her bare arms and her bare chest, I turned away. “Immoral and naked.” My heart quickened because
it knew I had to look again. I stared at her face, down to her neck, to her chest, and past her stomach.
No legs! A
Stumbling back to standing, I turned towards the sea. “Oh! Ohhhh…” I put
my hands up to my head. What do I do? She was a Merfolk, but something was wrong with her. I couldn’t just leave.
I loosened my tie and started unbuttoning my shirt as I thought
about how Mother would kill me if she knew. It might not have been against man’s laws to walk the beach, but it sure
the hell was against her’s. I turned back around and gently placed my shirt over the mermaid’s shoulders, covering
most of her exposed upper body that didn’t look monstrous at all.
She didn’t move, except for
her labored breathing. As I stood, wondering what to do next, I noticed a two inch gash in-between her two bottom fins that
seemed clogged with sand.
I ran to the water, cupped
it in my hands, and ran back. I did this several times, cleaning the wound as much as possible. I pulled my tie over my head
and then wrapped it around her fins, bringing the edges of the cut as close together as possible.
When I put
a handful of water up to her lips, she gave a quick inhalation, sucking up some of the water. I staggered backwards and then
shot to my feet. Running to the water, I shouted, “Hello? She’s alive, and she needs help!” But only the
spirited, nocturnal seagulls soared overhead, their replies loud but unclear.
After walking back and forth a couple
of times, I dipped into the water once again and took it to her. The mermaid’s eyes flew open, but I didn’t flinch.
I let her drink.
“Thank you,” she whispered.
I nodded, a little surprised to hear her speak. “Are you all right?”
“I think I just need something to eat.”
“Well, I can run home and make
“If you could just help me to the water, I can take care
of that myself.”
“Oh,” I said, recalling what Mother had said about them catching live fish in
“Please come be my guest so I can thank you for your kindness.”
I looked behind me at the ocean, allowing myself to realize how much I admired it. “I can’t, my mother…
besides, I’m not like you. It wasn’t true, after all. I was in the water, and I didn’t change.”
“The sea takes no one who doesn’t wish to be there.
You must desire the change. See?” She waved her hand over her tail. “I didn’t change into Landfolk just
because I sit on dry land. I love the sea, and I want to return.” She held my stare as she said, “You must love
Or am I just scared? A soft breeze lifted me out of my thoughts, as she lifted her arms to
me. I struggled, but managed to carry her until the waves splashed up to my shoulders. She sank and without a word disappeared
into the darkness.
“Did you have a good time?” Mother stood in the foyer like she had been waiting
there since I left. “I’m glad you finally got out of your—” Her smile distorted into a wide-mouth
scream. When she pointed at my feet, my face grew hot. I didn’t have to look down to imagine all of the golden sand
that probably clung to my pant legs and shoes.
She sat down on the stairs, blocking my escape to my room. In
between gasps she said, “How many times have I told you never to go to that beach? It’s dangerous. Shameful, dirty
beasts! Filthy-cannibalistic-naked-immoral-ugly creatures—”
“They’re not ugly,”
She sucked in her breath, her face a frozen mix of horror and shock. “What did you
I avoided her eyes. “I met one. I umm, I helped one. Her.”
to me right now,” she hissed, “you’ll never set foot on that wicked, wicked beach, again.”
At that moment, I realized how disgusted I was by her snobbish attitude. I also knew I would never be able to stay
away from the ocean, away from the beauty of the Merfolk. “Why do you hate them? Because they’re different? You
know, they’re not so unlike us. They can talk and are free to do…” At that moment, what really happened
to my father became so obvious. “He chose the ocean, didn’t he? Father wasn’t taken!”
Tears that I didn’t know Mother was capable of began to seep from her eyes. “I should have moved us to
the compound years ago just like the Worleys.” And then softly she sobbed. “But I had to wait.”
“Wait? For what? Father’s not coming back. Why would he? He’s free.”
you dare disrespect me, Junior. You’re too young to understand the world. Merfolk are manipulative and horrific.”
With wild eyes she looked around. “I have to protect you. Go pack! Now!” She stood up abruptly and pointed up
the stairs. “Pack up your stuff. We’re moving in the morning and never coming back.” She screamed, “They
can’t have you!”
I made my way up the stairs to pack for the compound. A compound
so far inland I heard the air smelled of pine. A compound I could not leave until I was of age.
next morning, I climbed out of my bedroom window and found my way back to the beach. It had lost all of its darkness and now
glistened and pumped silver-blue waves as far as I could see. Despite my new determination to be strong, I cried. I had just
discovered the ocean’s serenity.
“You came back.” I almost
missed the mermaid; her hair blended and moved with the water.
“I wanted to say goodbye. My
mother is scared of what she doesn’t understand.”
“But you’re not,”
her voice rose over the rumble. “I can see it on your face. You have fallen for the sea.”
She held out her arms to me. “There is only one way to find out. Give yourself fully
to the waves.”
I stepped into the water, thinking I would come back later and tell Mother goodbye, but the
feeling of freedom already overwhelmed me. The further I swam the further away the mermaid seemed. I watched the tip of her
tail go under and held my breath, plunging in after her. Immediately, I felt different. I was changing! My legs felt as one
unified object. But when I gave into the need to inhale, I choked violently. I coughed and gagged until finally I felt accepted.
My eyes had burned feverishly from the saltwater during the ocean’s initiation; now they could focus on the
new surroundings. Brilliant and vivid fish that I had never imagined existed swam playfully around me as if they were celebrating
To my surprise, a group of Merman suddenly appeared. My heart thumped wildly. I started scanning
their faces, searching for my father. I smiled, and they grinned. Then they opened their mouths, exposing daggered teeth.
They came closer, surrounding me, licking me with their shameful, filthy, cannibalistic tongues.