The Ocean's Call
By Elisabeth Niederhut

*

I watched with nervous anticipation as the numbers on the elevator went up. Every second took me closer to the top floor, and every second took me closer to the confrontation that could either be our salvation or our undoing. I wondered if I was strong enough for this. Could I really take on a pure blood?

I have to be strong enough, I told myself, because if I fail, we all die.

I shivered, thinking of death and destruction under the forbidding, blood red moon. The moon that would change my destiny forever.

*

Chapter One

When my dad slowed down the car, I knew something was up. Maybe it was a gas station, or maybe it was a place where I could eat something. I got up from my napping position in the back seat and looked out the window.

"Um, Da—George, where are we?" I was really hoping we weren't where I thought we were.

"We're here, Cassie! Home sweet home." He sounded so enthusiastic that I bit back my retort.

"Look! There's the building!" he exclaimed as we drove past the pathetic excuse for a skyscraper he was going to work in.

"Oh, honey!"

My mom gave my dad a huge kiss on the cheek before turning to face me. She didn't say a word. She just gave me a look. A look that basically meant, "Don't ruin this for your dad. This is the best thing that's ever happened to him!" So I remained silent.

It was hard to remain silent. There were so many cuss words I wanted to spit out. So many mean words and phrases that would get me grounded for a month, but I held it all back. I tried to be a better person, but that was hard when was I classified as the stuck up, popular girl. In fact, the only things that convinced me I wasn't a stereotypical blonde bitch was the fact that I was a brunette and that I actually noticed I was being a bitch. Now that I was seventeen, I guessed I'd gained a little perspective on my behavior, and I wanted to change it. Still, despite my guilt for bitching at my parents for the last two months, I was pretty pissed.

I was a real pain in the ass. I almost pitied anyone who had to share a car with me for this long. It had been a very long drive, and the only relief I felt was because the road trip was finally over. I would finally be able to put my feet on solid ground.

No more relying on paper barf bags. No more staying at motels and eating the leanest cereal I could find. No more Rolling Stones, or Talking Heads, or any other horrible bands people my parents' age liked to listen to. That was the best part. Never again. Never again would I have to listen to—Just then, my dad turned on his favorite song by some dead guy I didn't remember the name of. It sounded terrible.

"Are we almost there?" My voice betrayed how miserable I felt, and my dad sighed.

My mom gave me a slightly stern look. "Let's just drive around a bit. You've never seen the ocean."

I glared. "Yes, I have."

"Only on TV, sweetie."

"But—" I had no excuse. It was tour time.

As my dad drove by the old fashioned red brick buildings, I looked out the window for only one reason. I would get car sick again if I didn't. I had to look out the window most of the time, or I'd probably die of nausea. My parents just ooed and ahhed and made a few other sounds along that line. They were already in love with their new home. My new home. The home that would never be home to me. The home that was my hell on earth.

"Here comes the beach, Cassie!" My mom practically squeaked with excitement.

I had to admit, that despite my hate for everything about this place, I wanted to see the ocean. I had never seen the ocean, except in movies and the like. Never had I seen the real thing. So I rolled down my window and stared, waiting for my first glimpse. When my dad made the turn, though, nothing could have prepared me for the emotions I felt.

The ocean was the most beautiful thing I'd ever seen. It was impossibly beautiful. The sun was setting, and the orange glow reflected on top of the water. I watched the waves, crested with sea foam, splash against the rocks. It wasn't just the ocean's beauty that stunned me, though. It was the feeling it gave me. The irresistible call of the waves. It felt like the deep was pulling me towards it, as if it couldn't stand to be without me, and I couldn't stand to be without it.

"Can I get in?"

Mom laughed. "Honey, this beach is private. Besides, it's going to be dark out soon. We need to get to the house now."

"But—" It was useless, so I just asked, "What's it called?"

Mom seemed to think about it. "Well, I did see some photos of the beaches here. Yes. Now I remember. It's called Mermaid Beach."

"Mermaid Beach?" I asked, feeling skeptical. How could anyone bear to name such a beautiful place something so boring?

"Yes, I'm sure of it."

I sighed and wished I had access to the place. The hope was futile, though, so I just prayed to get to the house and out of this car.

Five minutes later, we made our stop. My parents looked so excited. They rushed up to the door and fumbled with the keys. It was like they couldn't get them out fast enough and soon had the door unlocked. I stepped inside after them and looked around.

The entryway was pretty big. It had nicely polished wooden floors and matching stairs facing the front door. In the middle of the right wall was an open doorway that led to a dining room. To the far right of that room was another doorway that probably led to a kitchen or basement. In the middle of the left wall in the entryway was yet another doorway. I opened it and walked into what looked like a living room. Its major features were a tan sofa that looked soft enough to sleep on, a coffee table that spanned its length, and a huge flat screen television that covered a majority of the wall it was on.

Whoa... I could really get used to this. Dad really did get good prize money for his last project. I'd had my doubts. I stepped out of the room and looked at my mom who was smiling at me.

"So," she said, "What do you think?"

"It's—" I almost said cool but thought that would sound too grateful, so I said, "It's okay."

I then went upstairs and found the room that had my furniture in it. Courtesy of the movers who had, of course, gotten there first. I plopped onto my mattress, grateful that it was familiar at least, unlike everything else, then I began drifting off into the oblivion of sleep.

*

In the morning, I felt a sort of strength I'd never had before. I didn't understand how I could feel so alive in a place like this. Maybe it was just my eagerness to swim in the ocean. I didn't know why I felt so drawn to its blue depths, but I wanted nothing more than to get in. I stepped into the blue and gold bikini that I had only ever used for tanning and put on some shorts and a tee shirt over it. It was seven in the morning, so I knew my parents were still sleeping in after the drive. That meant I wouldn't get caught going where I needed to go. Mermaid Beach.

I silently grabbed a towel from a cabinet and sneaked out the front door. I then made my way down to the sandy shoreline and walked along it, retracing the way we'd come yesterday. The water was beautiful with the rising sun shining on it. Seagulls and pelicans were diving for their breakfast, and a few clams were trapped out of water. I actually felt kind of sorry for them.

When I finally reached my destination, I gazed longingly at the waves. I'd never felt this way about anything. The feeling that I would die if I didn't get into the water. It was like I was dying of thirst with a glass of water right in front of me, just out of reach. That was kind of funny, considering the ocean was made of salt water.

There was only one thing holding me back. One thing that kept me from rushing in. I had never gone swimming before. The reasons why were simple and perfectly excusable. First of all, I had spent my entire life in Denver, Colorado. The Mile High City, as in, one mile above sea level. That obviously meant no ocean. The second reason was that I was allergic to chlorine.

Whenever I got into a pool, I got horrible rashes. It was really annoying, but I had learned to live with it. Now, looking at the ocean, seeing my chance to finally swim but fearing I'd drown, I hesitated. I kept telling myself that I would just stay where it was shallow. There would be no sharks or barracudas. I would be just fine, right?

I felt my toes curl in the damp sand. The water looked so inviting. I knew that I just had to get in, or I would lose it. I needed to get past my ridiculous fear and move it already. I started by taking my clothes off with deliberate slowness.

When that was done, I knew that the time for procrastinating was over. I took a few deep breaths then ran into the water. First I felt the soft tickling sensation of the water brushing against my ankles, then the slight coolness of being in up to my waist. I took a deep breath, plugged my nose and went under.

After I was over the shock of being completely immersed in salt water, I opened my eyes. I blinked rapidly as the salt stung them, but they soon got used to it. Salt wasn't as harmful or painful as chlorine in that respect. After a little while, I knew I should come up for air and did so. The weird thing was, I hadn't really felt like I needed it.

Before diving back in, I decided I should try something my friend Kiara had told me about. To swim without plugging your nose or using goggles, you had to close up your sinuses. It felt like a sort of tightening in the back of your nose, she had said. I tried it and instantly felt what I thought I was supposed to.

Phew. At least that was quick.

I experimented with it a few times above water, then I took a deep breath, closed up my sinuses and dived in. I was relieved that no water was coming in and soon felt myself releasing a long stream of air bubbles. It tickled my face, and that made me smile. After a few relaxing moments of feeling the waves carry me back and forth, I decided that I wanted to swim. It was kind of stupid considering I'd never had any lessons and there wasn't a life guard nearby, but every instinct in my body was urging me to do it, so I started trying to imitate things I'd seen people do in pools.

Hmm... That's the breast stroke, right?

I experimented by moving my arms in semicircles with cupped hands. I felt myself moving a bit as I did it, but I knew that I had to kick. I tried that, and it sort of worked, but it just didn't feel right. I found myself doing better when I kicked them in unison. Both up at the same time and both down at the same time. It seemed to come naturally to me, and I felt my spine curving with the motion. I realized then, that I had to be a natural at the dolphin swim.

There. That should work. So I zoomed ahead.

I didn't care right then that I was moving into deeper water. I just wanted to move forwards. I was moving faster than I had ever imagined. Even faster than when I was running. It seemed impossible, but here I was. I stopped to admire the fish and coral now and then, avoiding rocks. I was having a blast, then I realized that I hadn't come up for air since I'd gone underwater.

Whoa. That was just crazy.

Feeling a little uncomfortable for the first time, I backtracked the way I'd come, looking for familiar objects, then I was back on Mermaid Beach. I raced to my towel and clothes, dried myself off and dressed. That’s when I saw my legs.

I blinked. I had to be imagining what I was seeing. There were literally patches of scales, electric blue scales the same color as my eyes on my legs, but as soon as I saw them, they faded into nothing but skin. That was just too weird.



Chapter Two

As I walked home, I tried to convince myself that I'd been imagining things. There was no way in hell I could have grown scales. I checked my legs again to assure myself that they were gone. They were, and I hoped that they had never existed in the first place.

It's just stress, Cassie, I told myself. The move is taking its toll on you and you're imagining things. I almost preferred having scales to being crazy, though. Almost.

When I finally spotted my new house, I saw that the kitchen lights were on. Breakfast time. I'm busted. Great. I walked back into the house, trying to look as natural and innocent as possible.

"Cassandra Murdock?!"

I winced as my mom used my full name then said, "Um, yes?"

"Do you have any idea how much trouble you're in?! You had me worried sick!"

"I'm sorry." I was looking down at my feet.

"Sorry? Sorry?! It's already noon!"

That caused me to snap my head up from the ground. "It's that late?"

"Yes! Where have you bee—"

She took one look at my wet hair, and her face softened somewhat. "You've been in the water."

I nodded. "I lost track of time."

Mom sighed. "Well, at least you like something here. Hopefully your likes list will get bigger when you go to your new school."

"What school was that again?" I casually took a bag of chips out of a cabinet, avoiding eye contact.

"Jackson High. It's the local high school. This town might be small, but at least it has enough schools."

Jackson High. My hell within hell. This would be just great. "When do I have to go?"

"September first." She said it immediately, confidently.

That was the thing about my mom. She never forgot anything. She remembered Mermaid Beach's name from looking at its pictures probably no more than once. If that was the case, then she sure as hell knew every last detail about my new school.

"It'll be great, sweetie," she told me. "I promise."

She rushed up and hugged me, and I could suddenly sense how stressed out she was. She wanted me to be happy. I realized that she had been stuck between two warring family members for months. The adopted girl she loved as if she were her own, and the man she had chosen to spend the rest of her life with.

Right then, I felt so guilty that I hugged her back. I was such a self-centered jerk. For months it had seemed to be all about what I wanted. Now it was about what my parents wanted. There was no going back. I might as well make the best of things. With swimming, that could happen.

*

After eating a grilled cheese sandwich and chatting with my mom for a bit, I headed back to Mermaid Beach. Sure, I should have been tired of swimming by this point, but I just couldn't wait to get in again. After a nice meal and a normal conversation, the scales seemed like a forgotten dream. I still remembered holding my breath for who knew how long, though. I hadn't been imagining that. I wondered how long I could last underwater and got an idea.

I put on the underwater watch my parents had given me for our new home last June. I had been so mad those two months ago. It had seemed so fitting to them to tell me about the move on my seventeenth birthday. As if I had to be a certain age to handle the knowledge that my life was going to end. Now, though, I thought it could really come in handy.

I took off my clothes again, got waist deep into the water, set my watch timer, and then began my swim beneath the waves. It was just like before, only better. Comparing the memory of this morning's swim to experiencing the actual thing was like comparing a black and white photo to a colored one. Everything seemed new and bright, even the things I'd already seen.

I found myself going even farther than before until the water was so dark that I could barely see. I couldn't even see the surface I was so far down. My only thought was that I needed to get back. There was something wrong here. I didn't know what, but it really bothered me.

It was almost like something sinister was watching me. It was like the kind of fear one of the victims in jaws would probably feel, except worse. Somehow, though, I knew that whatever was down here was no shark. The knowledge was instinctive. Burned into me. I didn't understand how I knew, but I started swimming away as fast as I could.

It seemed like forever before I got back to shore. When I did, I rushed over to my clothes and towel and dried off. I dressed again and suddenly remembered to check my watch.

No way. My eyes had to be deceiving me. My watch had to be broken. It said, six hours.

Fearing the worst, I checked my legs again. The scales were back, except the patches were bigger, and there were more of them. They were fading more slowly too, but they were fading nonetheless. I watched them nervously until there was nothing but skin on my legs. My heartbeat returned to normal when that happened, and I rushed back home. When I went in the door, my mom and dad looked relieved to see me.

"Sorry I'm late. Again." I smiled sheepishly as I said the words.

My mom shrugged and said, "You didn't miss dinner."

I sighed with relief. "Thanks for waiting, Mom."

There were two audible gasps in the room coming from my parents. It took me a moment to realize what had caused it. For the first time in months, I had called my mom, Mom. Not Sarah. Mom.

Calling my parents by their first names was just one of the many punishments I'd inflicted on them during the past two months, but I didn't feel like I needed to do that anymore. Not when I enjoyed the ocean so much. They weren't forgiven for making me move to California, but I wasn't feeling nearly so mad at them now.

I looked at my parents, and they looked at me. None of us seemed to know what to say about my sudden change of heart, and just when it was getting awkward, I broke the silence.

"So, what's for dinner?"

Mom gathered herself a little. "Fish."

*

Dinner was good, if a bit strange. My mom had gone ahead and bought a seafood cookbook and tried out one of the recipes. She promised that she had something special planned for my dad's birthday. I wondered what it was and if Mom would need my help in the kitchen. I was a pretty good cook, but she was better.

My parents talked about all sorts of other things too. Mostly stuff I either didn't understand or didn't give a shit about. Still, I smiled and talked back, for their sake. I couldn't be self-centered and angry forever.

I had to try to be a better person. Not the girl who gossiped about the wrong clothes or tore losers apart. That had never really been me anyway. I had just wanted to fit in with the popular crowd. Now I would have to start all over, and being the new girl probably meant being at the bottom of the food chain.

I didn't comment on those facts to my parents. My mom was worried enough without me adding things to her already overflowing list. I wasn't sure I should even tell my friends. Sure, they were friends, but they were gossips too, and if they found out about my new status, they wouldn't be so eager to chat anymore. That's what things had been like back home.

Still, I loved my friends and my boyfriend, Josh. I missed them all so much. I could hardly wait to get on Skype. I should have checked in with them much sooner. Still, I waited patiently for dinner to end, rinsed my plate, waved good night, and went upstairs.

I went into my room and turned on my laptop. It hummed a little too loudly and took forever to start up. Finally, though, I opened the software. After setting up the camera, I briefly checked my dark brunette hair in the mirror.

I looked like a girl who had been swimming just over an hour ago. I supposed that was good for show. I did look kind of cool.

Something about my reflection made me uneasy, though. There was something different and alien in my electric blue irises. They held a sort of fire in them that made me look almost inhuman. It bothered me, so I turned away and logged onto Skype.

I was glad to see that Cecelia was online. She was the first to speak. "Oh my god! Cassie! Why didn't you log on sooner?!" She sounded excited and sort of hyper.

"Sorry, Cee Cee. I'm just..."

What was I supposed to say? I'm feeling some sort of irresistible pull from the ocean. I can hold my breath for six hours underwater, and every time I get out I grow scales. Not likely.

"Well, I'm still getting used to everything."

Cecelia didn't seem to notice my brief hesitation. "So, how's the beach? Are there any cute guys?"

I rolled my eyes. "No. There's not very many people here. The beach is nice, but it's deserted. The water's fun, though."

Cecelia looked disappointed. She had obviously been expecting some sort of story about a sexy tan surfer with blonde hair and abs. That almost made me laugh.

"So, how are things back home?" I asked.

That caught Cecelia's attention, and she began ranting about Amber and her boyfriend. I smiled and talked back the whole time, but for some reason I just wasn't interested. I didn't understand why this seemed so boring to me. I felt like I'd much rather swim. Still, I chatted until Cecelia ran out of things to say. I told her to say hi to Josh for me, and we logged off.

I was relieved to be off Skype. I didn't get it, though. Why was I so uninterested in my own friends? Why did I get the feeling that I wanted to be swimming more?

Swimming... It sounded so wonderful. It's ten thirty, Cassie, I told myself. It's too late to go swimming. But my parents were asleep by now, and I knew it. No one would have to know. I could just sneak out and...

I got up off my bed and grabbed my towel. I crept outside and ran as fast as I could to Mermaid Beach. I dropped my towel and smiled at the waves. They were so beautiful in the moonlight. The moon was beautiful too. It was the force that drove the ocean, the force that seemed to be driving me. I raced into the water and went head first into the blue.

The water was cool and refreshing, and the moment I got in, I knew I could stay in it forever. The silky sensation of saltwater on my skin was such a wonderful feeling. I immediately started swimming again but was disappointed by how dark everything was. It wasn't until about fifteen minutes later that I realized I hadn't been holding my breath. I was literally underwater with no need for oxygen. Was that even possible?

I shuddered. Something was very wrong here. Something I didn't understand. Wasn't it enough that I couldn't resist the ocean? Now I was breathing underwater, and I probably had those scales again.

That last thought sent a jolt through me. I looked down at my legs, but it was too dim to see them. I looked around for familiar landmarks and, despite the darkness, spotted a rock. I started climbing onto it, but something was wrong. My legs weren't gripping the stone. In fact, I couldn't even separate my legs. Panicking, I hauled myself up with my arms alone and examined the lower half of my body.

My heart skipped a beat. I screamed so loudly it would have deafened any nearby people, but there was no one but me out here, and for that I was grateful. I was grateful that no one could see what I was seeing right now. It was impossible, but I knew I wasn't dreaming. Where my legs should have been was a bright, electric blue, fish tail.

--

Copyright © 2012 by Elisabeth Niederhut
All rights reserved.