The Cerulean Gulf
Updated: May 21, 2021
“Bird!” Carl pointed at a silhouette soaring high in the clear blue sky.
“Yes,” Nesa smiled nervously, swallowing her fear.
The day was warm, and the breeze was pleasant and smelled like the ocean. The waters in the gulf were cerulean and sparkled in the sunlight, and the cries of seagulls filled the air. Lush tropical vegetation filled the surroundings, making the area look like paradise. Yet, despite all the surrounding beauty, anxiety stirred in Nesa’s chest. She didn’t want to be there, every nerve in her body was screaming at her to get away, but when her best friend’s seven-year-old son begged to be taken to the gulf, she simply couldn’t say no to his puppy dog eyes. He meant the world to her, and for him, she would face her fears; at the very least, she would try.
“Can we please go swimming in the gulf?” Carl tugged at Nesa’s arm.
“NO,” Nesa snapped, her heartbeat spiking. “We promised we wouldn’t go near the water.”
Carl pouted. “Just the edge. Please!”
“Carl, we’re not going near the water,” Nesa said, her voice growing stern.
“Alright,” Carl conceded, his head falling.
Guilt stung Nesa, but it was still mild compared to her rising unease.
“Can we at least go to the sand?” Carl pleaded.
Nesa turned to look at the secluded beach and drew a deep breath. “Alright.” Keeping her gaze away from the water, she grabbed Carl’s hand and slowly marched towards the white sand of the beach, leaving the soft green grass behind. The beach was empty and quiet, the only sound filling the air being the gentle rush of water, the whistling of the breeze, and the cries of birds. Nesa found a well-shaded spot below a tall palm tree that was as far away from the water as possible while still being on the beach and settled there.
“Yay!” Carl darted away from the shade and started playing about in the nearby sand.
“Stay away from the water!” Nesa called after him.
Carl sat down and started piling up the sand. He then stood up and pointed at the shimmering blue waves that gently lapped the shore. “I need to get water to build my sandcastle.”
“No,” Nesa said. She reached into her bag and pulled out a water bottle. “Use this,” she passed the bottle to the child.
Carl smiled and sat back down. He uncapped the bottle and began building his sand sculpture.
Time started to fly by, and Nesa finally started to relax a bit, her eyes taking in the clear skies. Soon the tranquillity started to lull her into a slumber. With a heavy-lidded gaze, Nesa studied Carl, noticing him concentrating hard on his rudimentary sand sculpture. Don’t fall asleep! Nesa instructed herself. Blinking her drowsiness away, she sat up.
“I need more water!” Carl said, showing Nesa the empty bottle.
“That’s all we have, Carl,” Nesa said.
Carl turned and looked at the water, “Please, can I just go and fill up the bottle?”
“Carl, we’re not going near the water,” Nesa asserted, “It’s not a discussion!”
Tears welled in Carl’s eyes, “My mom would’ve allowed me.”
Nesa slumped her shoulders, guilt stabbing at her chest. The child just wanted to have some fun, and she was holding him back because of her inhibitions. “Alright, Carl,” Nesa sighed, “But you can only go near the very edge of the water and fill your bottle, alright?”
A smile tugged at the corners of Carl’s mouth, “I promise!”
Nesa nodded, and Carl darted towards the aquamarine shore. Nesa wanted to keep her eye on him, but she simply couldn’t; the panic was too much for her to bear. She fixed her gaze on the sand below and kept her other senses on high.
A minute passed, and Carl didn’t return.
“Carl!” Nesa called out, her gaze still averted from the water.
There was no response.
Nesa called out to him again, and again, and again.
There was still no response.
Fear surged in Nesa’s veins, overriding her anxiety, and she tore her gaze away from the sand and towards the water. The sight that greeted her drained all the colour from her face.
The gentle blue waves that were calm moments ago were now starting to get ferocious. The winds had picked up and among all the rising ferocity was a small figure, splashing about desperately.
“Carl!” Nesa screamed and dashed towards the water with all her might. She reached the edge and stopped, her heart pounding like thunder. “CARL!” she screamed again.
“Aunt N—” Carl choked as he swallowed a mouthful of salty water.
“Carl! Swim back!” Nesa cried, tears streaming down her cheek.
A moment later, Carl was no longer visible above the water.
Nesa’s eyes widened as shock paralyzed her muscles. Shivering, she fell to her knees. “HELP!” she screamed with every ounce of desperation she had, but there was no response. The beach was completely empty; no one was there to help her.
“Please!” Nesa cried in desperation. “Anyone!”
Only the wind responded to her with a casual, uncaring whistle.
Nesa saw the waves lapping at the shore and felt her throat close. She had to save Carl, but her anxiety was on full blast. Every nerve in her body was unresponsive. Then, Carl’s jovial face flashed before her eyes. She couldn’t let that happy child drown. Her thalassophobia had caused her a lot of suffering throughout her life; she would not let it claim the life of an innocent young boy.
Gathering courage she didn’t know she had, Nesa stood up. She drew a shuddering breath and squeezed her eyes shut. Biting her lip, she slowly stepped into the water. The coolness zapped her like electricity, and her fear flooded her brain, but Carl’s face kept her going. Even though her heart was pounding like a jackhammer, she kept walking.
Soon, she was waist-deep in the water when something interesting happened. Like a phantom, all her fear vanished, replaced by an odd sense of calm that left Nesa feeling light, like a soft breeze could blow her away. The temperature of the water was no longer cold but comforting, like the sun on a winter morning.
Nesa slowly opened her eyes and looked down. The water around her had grown calm once more. However, below the surface, the skin on her legs was replaced by glittering sapphire scales. Nesa furrowed her eyebrows and reached down with her hand to feel her legs, but when her fingers dipped below the surface, webbing appeared in between her fingers, and a cerulean fin emerged from her elbow.
“What’s happening?” Nesa whispered to herself, staring at her webbed hand. She fixed her gaze on the deep waters ahead, feeling excitement bloom in her chest instead of the anxiety that she had grown used to.
Smiling, Nesa dove. As her body dipped below the water, her legs came together, forming a powerful tail fin. A dorsal fin emerged from her spine, and the skin on her neck split, revealing gills. Shimmering scales covered her lower body, and transparent lids covered her eyes, allowing her to see clearly underwater. For the first time in her life, Nesa felt free, like nothing could ever hold her back again.
Then, memories flooded her mind. Memories that belonged to her, but from another lifetime. She remembered swimming across a glittering coral reef with juvenile beings who had fins and scales in various metallic colours, she remembered swimming about in an underwater cave with a beautiful sea creature, she even remembered diving into a deep canyon and meeting a massive angler fish. However, beyond that, she couldn’t remember anything else from the life she’d lived underwater. There was an odd gap in her memories between her meeting with the angler fish and the day she’d awoken on a stranded beach, thinking she’d been abandoned by parents she’d never known.
A couple of yards ahead, she saw Carl, slowly sinking, his body still. With powerful strokes, she covered the distance and held the boy in her arms. She then swam back to the shore with supernatural speed. As she left the water, her aquatic features disappeared, replaced by her terrestrial limbs.
She laid Carl down on the sand and resuscitated him, bringing him back to the land of consciousness. As the boy slowly sat up, Nesa pulled him into a tight hug, tears running down her cheeks. Joy bloomed in her. Not only had she saved Carl, but she had also discovered a part of herself that had been hidden by her fear for too long.
That day as she left the Cerulean Gulf, she left a changed person. She had arrived as an anxious girl with severe thalassophobia and had left as a mermaid who could walk on land.