In Deep.
Copyright 2009, 2018 by Raymond Johnson. Eighth edition.
Cover photo provided by Elena Vizerskaya. (www.iStockphoto.com).

Dedicated to everyone at the Lulu forums for the continued encouragement.

"I have seen them riding seaward on the waves combing the white hair of the waves." - T.S. Eliot.

While holidaying on a cruise ship with his parents a teenage boy falls overboard and is drowning when he is rescued by a strange woman. She's an incredible swimmer and returns him to the ship where the boy and the rest of the passengers are shocked to discover that she possesses a tail.

This fantastical story follows the beginnings of a romance between the boy and his half-fish rescuer as well as society's reaction upon witnessing such a mythical creature.

 

 

Chapter 1 - Man Overboard

The seagulls were cawing as they swooped around the deck of the ship looking for morsels of food left by the passengers on the cruise. We had not long left port heading out to sea. I was only young at the time, in my early teens, and wasn't in the least excited at the notion of travelling the world with my parents on their second honeymoon.

They didn't consider me responsible enough to be able to look after myself. I wasn't completely stupid, I knew how to feed and clothe myself. Why didn't they leave me at home? It wasn't like I was going to set fire to the house or anything, the last time I did was an accident, I would never do it on purpose.

My parents were unpacking in the cabin while I stood staring at the land as it gradually grew smaller being replaced by the sea. That was how I envisaged the entire cruise to be. My parents would be busy enjoying themselves while I would remain alone and bored. There wasn't anyone else my age onboard, they were all either middle aged or old. What was I expected to do for six weeks? Even the deck was deserted as everyone busied themselves within their cabins. A younger crowd would have been cheering, up on deck alongside me waving the land goodbye, but old people weren't like that, making me wonder if anyone would ever sit down on any of the many rows of deckchairs. I felt alone on the vast ship while it sailed onwards into the empty ocean.

The gentle breeze tasted salty, carrying the sound of the ship's thumping engine that throbbed within my head, irritating my sinuses and causing a headache simultaneously.

The sea flowed lapping at the hull while sea birds cawed above. It was likely to be that way for the entire trip. What was the point? There was going to be no relaxation for me.

I leant forward against the handrail looking down at the white frothy water as the engines pushed against it moving us further out to sea. The frothy water reminded me of a fizzy drink and I found myself growing increasingly thirsty as I continued staring. It was a hot day and a cool refreshing drink was a good idea, but there was something of a comfort about staying where I was for my boredom was making me listless, which caused me to grow ever more bored. It would take quite some effort to physically go back to the cabin and ask my parents for some money to buy a drink.

Very slowly I walked while still partly leaning my hand against the handrail only to let go when I came across some bird poo then continued walking slowly.

I wasn't sure why but for some reason I walked back to the handrail and leant over the edge for a final look at the port as it shrank in the distance. In quite a short space of time it looked tiny and...

Splash!

Instantly I was underwater having no idea how I had gotten there. I struggled, moving my arms and kicking my feet in a panic trying to resurface. It took a tremendous amount of effort to move very slowly up to the surface where I was able to take a short breath before sinking again. I gulped and swallowed water. I tried to cough when I reached the surface again but desperately needed to take a breath but couldn't do both simultaneously. I was constantly sinking after each short breath then having to fight with all my might to resurface again. I couldn't struggle anymore and my mouth opened underwater filling my lungs with seawater. When I resurfaced I coughed and spluttered but sank again before I could catch another breath. I was drowning.

I sensed the movement of the ship as it travelled away from me with no one aware of my absence. It would be some time before my parents discovered I was gone and my body would be lost at sea. If there was only a way I could call out to them, but I couldn't breathe let alone scream. A deep sense of sadness fell over me as I imagined how my parents would deal with the loss for the rest of their lives.

Instinctively I continued to fight against the sea but I knew it was a losing battle and it was just a matter of time before the surface was out of reach. I closed my eyes and waved my arms and feet frantically.

 

Chapter 2 - My Heroine

A pair of hands grabbed tightly around my sides, swiftly raising me up to the surface. I coughed, spluttered and vomited seawater, whilst trying to regain my breath and trusting that I wasn't going to slip from my rescuer's grip. Luckily the person holding me was an excellent swimmer and held me firmly under my armpits whilst treading water keeping us both afloat. I tried to speak but couldn't while gasping for air. My fingernails dug into her bare shoulders trying to hold onto her with all my might, causing her to flinch slightly as I drew blood, yet she still remained completely calm. My guess was she must have been a lifeguard aboard the ship or a fellow passenger who witnessed my fall. Either way I was lucky to have such an amazing swimmer come to my rescue. I tried to thank her but couldn't formulate words whilst taking deep breaths.

We were holding each other almost at arms length, her hands under my armpits and mine gripping her shoulders, it was a strange position to be in and I was sure she would drop me at any moment.

The sunlight reflecting on her pale wet skin was dazzling and bright. She had dark yet shiny hair that cascaded from her head, down her back, spreading out on the surface of the water. I also noticed she was topless, so guessed she was sunbathing aboard ship before coming to my rescue. Being a normal teenage boy a topless woman was something I would normally be excited about, but under the circumstances I was more impressed at her swimming ability and never gave her breasts a second thought as they occasionally revealed themselves from beneath the surface of the water. Her face was clammy, with no makeup of any kind, and her eyes were dark with large pupils never once appearing to blink.

I turned to the direction of the cruise liner as it sped away from us. In a panic I started pointing toward it.

"It's..." I said breathlessly, "It's... it's moving away from us, leaving us here."

My rescuer calmly turned her head in the direction of the ship then moved herself closer to me. Sliding her left hand around my back she held me close against her body, then used her right hand as a paddle as she calmly swam with me in her arm towards the direction of the ship. There were splashes behind us as she kicked with her legs beneath the water.

There was no sense of panic in her actions at all, she took the entire event in her stride. With each stroke of her hand and splash of her feet we increased speed and I couldn't believe it as we were actually catching up with the ship. It wasn't too long before we caught up and were swimming alongside. She was an amazingly gifted swimmer to have been able to achieve such a feat, we were actually moving faster than the ship and had to slow down before we overtook.

She had a bright and happy look about her face as she turned toward me. Her open mouthed smile was a pleasure to see, her teeth were pearly white with a slight hint of fish upon her breath. Her body felt icy cold as she continued holding me against her daring not to let go of me. I hoped with all my will that she wasn't going to succumb to hypothermia therefore dooming us both.

She held me at her side and waved her right arm into the air letting out a short but high pitched scream. A rush of people on the ship's deck started moving around and within moments the ship's horn blew. Lots of lifebelts were thrown over the side some almost hitting us. My rescuer didn't attempt to grab hold of one, instead she continued to partly tread water and partly paddle to keep up with the ship.

A lifeboat started to lower over the side with two men inside. It was annoyingly slow and I had to hold back my panic as I wanted to get closer, but the woman holding me stayed back not attempting to move until it reached the water. With me still in her arms she swiftly swam closer to the lifeboat then lifted me up with both arms. I was surprised at her strength and agility to be able to hold me in such a manner whilst simultaneously treading water.

"Give me your hand!" One of the men on the lifeboat said.

He was large, very muscular in fact, and covered with tattoos. He grabbed hold of me then in a single movement lifted me up into the boat.

"Now you!" He said calling out to the woman.

She pushed herself away from the boat and began waving as though intending to leave.

"Come on!" I called out to her.

She lowered herself underwater then flipped herself upside down revealing her fish tail. All three of us within the lifeboat couldn't believe our eyes. She was a mermaid!

 

Chapter 3 - Going Fishing

It had been two weeks since the incident and my parents had cancelled the cruise. Instead we were sitting on a small yacht at the same location where I had fallen overboard in an attempt to find the mermaid again. A lot of other people shared the same idea and were trawling the area. There were at least thirty other boats along with divers within the immediate vicinity searching for any signs of her.

I was tired and it felt as though I hadn't slept a wink since the incident. It wasn't the shock of almost losing my life that upset me, but the fact that a mermaid saved my life that was causing me to go over the event constantly in my head. I had grown completely smitten with her and head over heels in love, but at the same time felt fear because mermaids never really existed. I hoped that maybe it was all a prank and she was really just a good swimmer wearing a fake tail but that was extremely unlikely, either way I needed to know.

I was sitting on the back of the small yacht with my legs dangling over the side gently kicking the water with my feet. My parents and a team of divers also shared the deck and were busy with their extensive search. They had an underwater radar that checked for anything larger than a cod. Almost every hour the divers would jump in and search, closely followed by the divers on the other boats, on the off-chance that the blip on the radar was her, but it never was. The likelihood of her showing herself with all those people around was remote. Personally I was bored with the search even though I had been excited by the idea when my parents suggested it. My father had plenty of money and could easily fund such a venture, and there were plenty of willing volunteers to offer their services for free, eager by the prospect of just glimpsing a mermaid. But I was beginning to have doubts that anything would come of it or if anyone would ever see her again.

I turned my head to one side as some of the divers jumped in splashing water against my face without any consideration or warning. They jumped in one by one, six men and two women wearing ultra-tight wetsuits leaving nothing to the imagination. One of the men's wetsuits was bright orange looking completely out of place, he may have been the lead diver I wasn't sure.

I was wearing an orange lifejacket over the top of my t-shirt and shorts. I slowly lowered myself into the water, partly as a way of cooling myself with it being such a hot day but also partly because I was bored. I felt safe with the lifejacket keeping me afloat as well as plenty of divers and boats around, but even so I held tightly against the back of the yacht.

A splash of water hit me against the face again as a diver resurfaced. I closed my eyes and turned my head away then felt the diver rub their hand against my cheek. As I faced them I realised it wasn't a diver, it was her, the mermaid.

I couldn't believe my eyes and stared in total shock. How could she possibly have known who I was? Did she recognise my feet beneath the water?

I felt her soft hand brush my cheek once more then she lowered her arm to her side. Her dark eyes stared into mine as she slowly moved herself closer whilst tilting her head. There was movement from her mouth and her eyelids raised as though she was about to speak yet she remained silent. I responded with a bright smile. She then made a very silent almost inaudible squeak that hurt my ears causing me to flinch and briefly close my eyes. It was probably a high pitched sound that was only audible underwater. It must have been her way of saying hello.

"Um, hello," I replied nervously.

She moved her lips but this time there was no sound whatsoever, she may have been mocking me. She tilted her head yet again and poked out her chin. I had no idea what she was trying to communicate.

"It's... so good to meet... meet you again," I stuttered with nerves.

She rested her hand upon my shoulder and moved even closer pressing the tip of her nose against mine. Her salty fishy breath wafting against my face. I had a suspicion that she was about to kiss me so I readied my lips.

The water around us suddenly stained red as she let out a very audible scream. In an instant she was dragged underwater while a group of divers resurfaced, one of which was holding a harpoon. Another boat approached and the men onboard were holding a net getting ready to jump in.

"NO!" I screamed at the top of my voice as I attempted to dive underwater only to be prevented from doing so by my lifejacket.

There were splashes everywhere as well as shouting and screaming. Some of the divers were arguing over who she belonged to while other boats sped closer causing chaos. I was in such a panic, I had no idea what was going on, where she had gotten to, or even if she was still alive.

The next thing I remembered was my father jumping into the sea fully clothed while my mother yelled at the diver in the orange wetsuit. A boat coming at speed hit another boat knocking some men overboard.

"She's gone!" Someone yelled as he pulled against another net that had been thrown in.

All that remained was a tangle of her long hair entwined around a metal chain to which a blood soaked torn net swung.

 

Chapter 4 - Cold Wet Cave

The sunset felt warm against my face as I looked at the distant horizon from the beach while I stood upon a dilapidated unused pier. Every moment of that day was firmly imprinted on my mind with the exception of the chaos that followed. I blamed myself for what happened. Why hadn't I realised what they all wanted? They didn't care about her. They just wanted to take her and stick her in an aquarium, or kill her and have her stuffed and displayed as a trophy. It had torn me up inside. I just wanted her to know how sorry I felt but there was no way I could tell her. She was probably dead, she had lost so much blood. I wished she had allowed me to drown that day so no one would have known of her existence.

I continued watching the sunset as the sun appeared to sink beneath the sea. It had only been a few weeks since what happened but there were still people actively searching for her, or to be more accurate fishing for her, in the vague hope that she would show up again. I had even been asked to join them again but there was no chance that I would be willing to act as bait.

I took a large breath then sat down dangling my legs over the side of the pier having already removed my flip-flops. The beach was deserted as the sun went down, with the only sounds coming from a few distant gulls. The sea looked strange at that time of day reflecting the sun turning the sea a sunset red. I wondered how deep the light went and if sunsets were visible underwater.

Some seagulls started swooping down against the surface of the water picking off small fry disturbed by something below the surface. Gulls were opportunists and never missed the opportunity for a meal. They instantly flew away again as someone surfaced. I stared as this person as they waved their right arm at me. It was hard to see in the distance but she looked topless. It couldn't be her. There was no way she could have known where I was. How could she possibly find me? Was she able to detect my scent?

In an instant and without being aware of what I was doing I had already jumped into the sea swimming towards her. I wasn't a good swimmer and she knew it so she swiftly swam closer.

"I'm sorry!" I yelled out, "I'm so sorry."

The mermaid wrapped her arms tightly around my body and pressed her lips firmly against mine forming a tight seal. We sank underwater and I felt myself being carried out to sea, and even deeper under the water. Every few moments I felt a bubble of air transfer from her mouth into mine and I was able to breathe. As I tried to look where we were going all I could see were her beautiful dark eyes staring back at me. She was taking me somewhere but I had no idea where, possibly her underwater home.

There was a possibility she blamed me for what had happened and was intending to take out her revenge upon me, even so I was willing to take the risk and not fight against her wishes even if she intended to take my life. Yet I knew deep down within my heart she wasn't that kind of creature. There sensed no malice within her.

I felt us change direction and she started swimming up until we finally resurfaced in cave that was lit with a magnificent glowing blue emitted by tiny sea creatures lining the cave walls.

While still in our embrace she parted the kiss and swam me over to a stone ledge then proceeded to sit me on top of it. She dragged herself out of the water and sat beside me. Her eyes reflected the blue light of the cave as she stared at me tilting her head to one side. There was something hypnotic about her gesture that filled my body with a hazy warm feeling as the back of my eyes tingled.

I looked down at her tail as she swung it against the water's surface. There was a distinct wound in the fin at the very tip. Her hair appeared different too as though she had either cut it short or tied it back.

"I am so, so, sorry for what they did to you," I said as I continued to stare at her tail, "I didn't know they were going to do that."

Tears poured down my cheeks. She didn't appear to understand what was happening, maybe she had never experienced crying before. She then began licking the tears from my cheeks and around my eyes with her rough clammy tongue that oozed with her fishy breath that I was beginning to find pleasant.

"Thank you," I said.

She responded with a squeak and began stroking my hair. I loved her with all my heart and I suspected she loved me. I wondered if fate would allow us to have a relationship and what the future may bring. It would be far easier for me to live under the sea with her than her living in danger on the surface with me.

She once again pressed her lips firmly against mine. I expected she was about to take me for another swim but she stopped, removed her lips from mine, then smiled. For the first time in my life I was happy.

THE END.

 

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