Reclining in his seat on top the lifeguard tower, he felt like he could do anything. The tanned adonis felt strangely god-like, glancing at the people, smaller and more doll-like than he would have ever imagined running about the beach, ankles kissed by the cool lips of the ocean as it jutted forward to meet them. The people were interesting, they came and went with the sun that could never figure out whether it wanted to stay or go, always ending up making an exit, but Hunter was always entranced by the ocean. It shined a green blue color, the light bouncing off it playfully and causing it to glitter like it was filled with gold. He had always sworn it was the most beautiful thing in the world the way it encircled the world like a mother’s arms and receded when the sharp winds pushed it back, ungrateful for it’s gentle grip. This was his peace, his sanity. When he was mad, the ocean whipped his face with a peculiar salty smell that made everything okay and the gentle wave soothed him with it’s delicate caress. He wanted people to enjoy the ocean like he did and he thought, maybe that’s why he became a lifeguard.
Running a hand through his hair, Hunter stiffened his arched back to correct his posture, still watching the beach below as it stirred peacefully. He hadn’t had to make many rescues in his time lifeguarding. A couple of kids who went in a little too deep once, a teenage girl on a surfboard who he could have sworn kissed him back and a very large bearded man who had been carried out by the tide and had his left ankle secured by a very leaves of seaweed. People were careless, but when people are thrown into the ocean, they often learn how to swim. After all, that’s what had happened to him. Things were calm at the beach, laughter filled his eardrums and he almost laughed in spite of himself, until his eyes caught sight of something very strange. By the rocks he spotted a flash of blonde hair, long, belonging to a girl maybe. He figured this mysterious blonde would be alright until he saw it. A fin. He blinked. A fin. A fin. A fin. How could that be possible? He tried to convince himself he didn’t see it, but it flashed across his vision like a flashback and rested in the back of his eyelids, the image unshakable. Something was jutting out of that water that wasn’t the girl or a surfboard or a boogie board (he had been trained to spot them from far away), this was serious. Figuring out quickly what it was, he uttered the word he thought he would never have to utter while on duty.
He hadn’t said it loud enough. Frantically breaking out the cone, he shouted. “Shark!” The whole beach seemed to visibly shudder, their eyes wide with fear. “Shark! Shark! Shark! Everyone out of the water. We have a shark in the water, everyone please evacuate the premises immediately!” He ran across the beach and watched as screams erupted from frightened women and children who once he shimmied down off his perch ran screaming past him, their eyes filled with tears, creating the perfect horror movie setting. “Ma’am, please grab your children and exit the beach.” For another energized two minutes, the remaining people on the beach shrieked and haphazardly grabbed all their stuff, crying into cellphones and leaving a few things behind. Once they were all gone, Hunter pulled out his walky-talky, remembering he had to address the Code Blue. Just as he was about to press the talk button, he remembered the blonde he saw. Someone was out there.
Running into the water with his life guard rescue float on hand he waded into the water and swam as fast as he could. He knew he should have just called the paramedics first, but he didn’t know how long that would take them. For all he knew, that girl could be—he swallowed. He erased the thought from his mind. Finally reaching the rock, he looked around for the girl. Diving under the water, he searched for a leg or an arm or that hair but came up with nothing. Sea water stinging his eyes, he had finally caught sight of that blonde he was looking for, her back turned to him. He put a hand on her shoulder to provide a certain safety, her skin was soft, foreignly soft. “Look are you hurt? Did it bite you anywhere? I’m going to take you back to shore, I’m going to take you ba-“ He paused mid-sentence and dropped his hand, because on the rocks, the body turned and transformed into the most beautiful, foreign creature he had ever seen. Blonde hair rippled down her shoulders and her eyes were as blue as the cerulean sea around her. Her heart-shaded face and delicate, curious expression. She could have been a supermodel or beauty pageant contestant, except for the fact that she had a magnificent tail where her legs would be.
He stared, shocked and dumbstruck by the vision before him.
"Hi." He pronounced stupidly, reciting the first word popping into his mind, a little bit of sea water trickling out of his mouth and down his face. Smooth.
He had spent his whole life thinking that the sea was the most beautiful thing that he had ever seen, but in this moment, in this moment he knew he was wrong.
The cry came out of nowhere, but somehow, the single syllable had the ability to startle every single person in the beach and water. They scrambled out, their screams mingling together in a singular, high-pitched warble that sent tremors through the ocean. In moments, the brightly-colored umbrellas were snapped up, patterned towels were rolled up, and tiny children were snatched by their sticky fingers as a mass, frantic exodus began. Frightened by the sudden onset of noise, Corabella pressed her fingers tightly in her ears to drown out the sound, but when that didn’t work, she dove underwater again, fearful that they had spotted her—that her presence was the reason for their screams.
Under the surface of the water, there were no screams. The heavy pressure masked all the sounds of the outside world, but it multiplied the sound of her beating heart. It pounded against her rib cage like a rabid animal demanding to be let out, and Cora was afraid that if the humans above had not noticed her before, they would now. Although even more terrifying was the possibility of her people discovering her lurking so close to the land dwellers. She knew what happened to those that flirted with fishermen; both parties were mercilessly killed. They had no patience or sympathy towards the so-called “traitors.” The folklore of mermen and mermaids was a secret well-guarded for centuries, and horror stories of the evil deeds of those on land kept the little ones from swimming too close to shore. But how could Cora ever stay away, when everytime she closed her eyes, she saw ruffled brown hair, strong arms, and a golden chest? And she wondered, too. She wondered why her people were so afraid. After all, waist-up, humans and mermen were not so different.
She should’ve gone back. She should’ve fled the scene when she still had the chance, but curiosity burned inside of her, and she popped back up to the surface to see what had transpired on the beach. It was empty. Somehow, in the span of five minutes, the entire beach had cleared. Only the occasional bag or towel was left in the sand, a speck of color among the beige background. But where was the handsome lifeguard? Fear thudded in Corabella’s chest. His presence made her feel safe, but now that she was all alone…
An inhuman shriek left her lips as a cold hand touched her shoulder and Cora immediately went to dive back into the water and swim far, far away. This was a mistake this was a mistake this was a mis—
Her aqua gaze landed on the tanned lifeguard, and suddenly, her heart jumped into her throat and stayed there. He was even more beautiful up close, and she could see that his eyes were a warm tawny. She had never seen someone so sculpted, as if the sea gods themselves had risen from the seas to create him. She flinched slightly as a syllable left his mouth. She wondered if it was a greeting of some sort, and she mirrored him. “Hi.”
The sound of her own voice startled her and awoke her from her reverie. What was she doing, conversing with a land dweller? His eyes roved over her glistening, scaly tail, and she felt dread grow in her chest. He knew. He saw. Hopelessness washed over her as her options narrowed. So she did the only thing she had ever known how to do—she swam away. Casting one last startled look at him, she minorly shook her head from left to right before diving into the cool protection of the ocean, of her home.
The sky was bleeding, the setting sun throwing up its last, dying rays to color the horizon with deep reds, mellow oranges, and golden yellows. The rippling ocean reflected the clouds above it, and on the sandy beach, shade had fallen, prompting sunbathers to pack up their towels and umbrellas, calling out for their friends and children to wade out of the darkening ocean, haphazardly dripping water as they bundled up and left the premises.
A few stragglers were left on the beach: exasperated mothers waiting for their rambunctious children who refused to leave the cool waters; the optimists with their last dredges of hope that the sun would make a reappearance; and the lifeguard perched atop his chair, keeping a dutiful watch on the few swimmers left in the ocean. However, none of them could’ve noticed the small, surreptitious splash about a hundred meters from the coastline, and if any of them noticed the glint of purplish-blue scales that accompanied the splash, they didn’t show it.
Underwater, Corabella swam a little nearer, her arms lazily trailing at her sides while her strong tail, a teal blue dissolving into light purple, propelled her forward, cutting through the water with ease. Only when she found protection behind a large boulder jutting out from the shoreline did the young mermaid dare to pop up her blonde head, peeking over to observe those left on the beach, her eyes, matching the blue on her tail, drifting over to the lifeguard atop his perch. She’d been watching the mysterious but handsome land dweller for a handful of sunsets now, her desire to reveal herself conflicting with the laws of her people that forbid her from doing so.