“Hello, horrible children,” my aunt says, shouting from the front door.
“Be down in a second!” I yell as loudly as I can, sending my sound waves rippling through my door, curling downstairs, and crashing into my mum and aunt.
I tie my golden hair with a purple ribbon and stare down at the brown paper box, which I found randomly on my bed earlier. The label reads: “To Cate.” That’s it. To Cate. It beckons me, luring me in. I think I can almost hear it singing to me, tempting me to open it like sirens leading ships to their deaths.
“Catharine Marks! Dinner,” Mum says, howling from the kitchen. Luckily the wooden door absorbs most of her sound, though the anger-tinged tone permeates through, making me jump.
I glare at the door, willing it to melt to the floor. I hate when she calls me Catharine. No one besides her calls me that. It’s so formal and regal, as though I’m snooty royalty.
“Catharine! It’s getting cold!”
“Coming!” I shout back, returning my attention back to the brown paper box. Where did this come from? It wasn’t there before I showered … and now?
I brush the ribbon holding the paper sides together, the silk seductively slides against my fingers; it’s green like the one my sister Imogen must wear in her hair, though it might just resemble it. Mum always forces us to tie our hair back with ribbon to prevent any breakage.
Should I open it? What would be the harm in peering inside? I am curious. Maybe it’s an early birthday gift from my aunt.
I tug the bow. As it unravels, the brown paper box’s flaps fall open. Lights blind me, searing into my head. Throbbing pounds in my skull. I turn away and lunge to run, but not quickly enough. Hands, glowing hands, grab my waist and pull me inside.
The light fades, and I'm engulfed by darkness. Panic stirs up my throat, heating my cheeks. I flail so hard my joints crack. I need to get out of here. Where am I?
Water. So much water surrounds me, flooding into my lungs. My thrashing slows through the water.
“Open your eyes.” A voice sings like wind chimes gargled with rain.
I keep thrashing. My bottom half heavies, weighing me down. Chilled water seeps through my clothes, making me feel bare, pebbling my skin. I can’t breathe. I’m drowning. How did I get here? My muscles ache. My legs feel so heavy they could be tied together with anchors and chains.
I’m late to dinner. I must head to the kitchen before Mum bursts a blood vessel from anger.
“Cate. Open your eyes. Breathe,” the singsong voice says again, rippling against my ears.
Breathe? Open my eyes? It’s dark. I’m in the water. How will opening my eyes help me escape?
“Cate. Do as I say.”
Either I can follow the voice’s instructions or drown trying to leave. I inhale. Water seeps past my lips and down my throat as easily as air. I finally obey and open my eyes, and as I exhale, small bubbles flutter around me, sparkling in the water like sequins.
Before me, a topless woman sways her hips against the current. Lavender scales wrap around her legs, binding them together and two fins flop beneath where her feet would be. A mermaid. She’s a mermaid. A myth.
“Cate, it’s okay,” the mermaid says softly, noticing my wide eyes.
My breathing quickens, erupting bubbles around me. How is she a mermaid? This can’t be real. Did I faint? Could I be dreaming?
“Don’t panic. My name is Princess Thalia.”
I flap my arms around and try to kick, but my thighs feel fused together. Why can’t I kick? Wait … I glance down; I’m topless, and where my legs should be, green scales bind my bottom half into a tail.
“I’m a mermaid,” I say, gurgling out. I cease flailing and relax in the water, observing my surroundings. Coral lines the sea floor with schools of fish weaving in and out of the formations that probably took millions of years to form.
A shark swims from a cave, wiggling through the sea toward us. My heart beats into my stomach. I freeze. Should I swim away? Am I a friend or food?
Thalia remains still, smiling at the shark. She waves toward it. Her composed gesture relaxes me.
Breathe, Cate. I steadily inhale and exhale, and warily grin toward the predator. The shark with a black tipped fin glides up to Thalia and slides his skin along hers, nuzzling against her like a puppy.
“This is Bruce. My shark.” Thalia strokes his rubbery skin. “Hold onto his fin. He’ll take us to the portal, so you can go home.”
Glee and nervous energy glitters inside my chest. The sound of leaving this place makes me both excited and anxious. The beauty of this underwater world is tantalizing. “There’s a portal home?”
As I wave through the water, toward Bruce, my golden hair floods before my eyes. Thalia has a shell crown atop her head, keeping stray black strands from blocking her sight. I curl my fingers around Bruce’s fin. It’s simultaneously smooth and rough. His warmth radiates through me.
Bruce leads us through the water. Ripples massage my skin. We glide so fast that the fish around us blur into myriads of rainbows.
“Not too far now,” Thalia says.
My skin tingles. Adrenaline courses through my blood, dizzying me. I laugh so hard. I never want to leave.
“Bruce, slow.” Thalia commands and her shark obeys. “Cate, swim behind that rock and you can return home.”
“What if I want to stay?”
“You can’t stay very long on your first time here. It’s too dangerous. However, I promise each visit here you can stay longer. All you have to do is reopen the brown paper box.”
“If I want to?” I ask, coiling the question in my mind. There is so much more of this underwater world that I need to learn about. Why is it dangerous? How does the portal work? What or where is Thalia the princess of? I brush my fingers against my scaled tail, the slimy yet silky texture tingles under my touch. “I do want to.”
Cate sighs, lowering her shoulders down her back. “Good. Our world needs you to come back, but I can’t force you here. It must be your choice.”
“Why does this place need me?” No one has ever needed me before. I’m too awkward for friends, too smart for a partner, and yet this world needs me.
“I can’t say more. But Cate, I’ll see you soon.”
I nod. Confusion lifting from my stomach to the back of my throat. I dive toward the boulder, extending my arms before me to swim with ease. As soon as I round the other side of the rock, and lose sight of both Thalia and Bruce, the same glowing hands as before blind me and yank me from the underwater world.
About the Creator
She has a Master in Creative Writing, Publishing and Editing from University of Melbourne, and Bachelor in Creative writing from George Washington University.
She currently teaches yoga, Pilates and boxing fitness in Melbourne, Australia.