An old man sat on the rocks of a once popular beach, down on an abandoned and time-worn levy. He simply stared at the horizon and prayed, a photograph clasped in his bony fingers. He kissed the image and closed his eyes. He fingered his half of a small glass heart in his pocket as he let his mind wallow in the predictable sounds of the ocean. He closed his eyes and slipped into a light sleep.
A beautiful young girl leaned over the side of the rock face, licking the salty wind off of her chapped lips. The green blue frothy water slurped against grassy slabs of granite, throwing white sea foam high up into the air. The tide rose, making the little girl cling to her father’s hand tighter than before, her fingernails leaving little half-moons in his palm. She was sure this one would hit them, but she couldn’t turn away from the water. She had to watch them become saturated. At the last second, the salty sea dove down, smacking into the levy below them and throwing rainbows into the wind and keeping the pair surprisingly dry. Fascinated, she leaned closer.
Her father tugged her back into his side. “Not too close, Nerida. Don’t want you to take a tumble off the side.”
She didn’t break her gaze with the horizon. Her father did not look away from the shoreline. “But wouldn’t the ocean catch me?”
Finally he smiled, glancing down at her, thin blonde hair catching in the breeze. The girl tilted her head, eyes captivated by the waves. “The ocean wouldn’t have time to catch you, baby, the rocks would first.”
“How come you’ve never taken me here before?”
He smiled sadly. “Haven’t had the courage.”
She looked up to him, his lost wife’s turquoise eyes twinkling. “But the ocean is my home. It’s everyone’s home…it’s mommy’s too.” She glanced back out again. “Can we go home now, Daddy?”
Her father glanced back towards the beach, mentally tracing a path they could navigate safely across the levy and back to their house. “Of course, let me just-“ and suddenly a small hand was no longer in his own.
His heart in his throat, he turned around to see his daughter now out of reach, sprinting rapidly out towards the waves. The water crashed around her, raining on her, calling her name in the tone of the sea.
“Nerida, no!” he cried, reaching out as if he had the power to stop her.
But she dove over the side without looking back, tumbling off head first into the surf. Just like she had predicted, the water caught her, caught the screaming girl, and hauled her off toward the horizon.
Her father was on the edge, frantically taking off his jacket and shoes, ready to dive in after his daughter. She was still screaming, as if in agony, her body becoming one with the water. Tears streaming down his face, he unbuckled his pants with shaking hands.
Before he jumped, he glanced out one last time, spotting his daughter among the swells. She no longer screamed, her head above the water and skin as shiny pale as moonstone. She stared into his eyes, blonde hair swirling around her like an angel.
His mouth opened slightly, a chill spreading down his spine. Her eyes had changed.
The color of inhuman aquamarine was now rampant in her eyes, pupils slit like a reptile and all emotion devoid in her features.
He gaped at her, then beckoned his daughter with his hand. “Nerida…darling…swim to me…swim to the rocks so I may take you home…”
She tilted her head with what he assumed was a playful smile on her lips, before her head disappeared into the surf. And no matter how long he waded along the coastline, he never saw her face again. His only solace was her half smile, desperately trying to convince himself that she was happy among the deep. He distracted himself from the inevitable truth that she had drowned and he had seen a ghost, but still possessed the gnawing sensation that she was still alive.
The old man jerked awake and away from his dreams, eyes instinctively scanning the horizon as they learned to do throughout the years. Still nothing, simply the vastness of the ocean so full of life yet so invisible to the eye, to simulate solitude.
He was about to settle back into his chair and continue his prayers when he locked eyes with a creature of the sea. His breath caught in his throat, holding eye contact with familiar turquoise eyes so similar yet so different, that peered just over the edge of the levy. The creature exposed her face, long blonde hair tinged with algae swirling and a webbed hand grasping at the rocks.
The man still could not breathe, and even though she was much older than the little girl he held on this levy, a man would never forget the eyes of his daughter.
He ran to her side, reaching out to cup her cool face.
“My Nerida…oh my dear Nerida,” he cooed. She was hesitant to let him touch her, but indulged him in his humanist ways, unwavering gaze and unsmiling face fixated on his own. He slimed his hands through her slippery locks.
“My darling, I’ve missed you so! And look at you! All grown up and so beautiful; like an angel of the sea and carved of porcelain.”
She made no recognition she’d heard his words.
Tears streamed down his face. “You won’t leave me again will you? Oh my dear, why have you come back? To see me?”
She tilted her head and glanced down, raising her other arm out of the water. In it she cradled an infant, swaddled in kelp and seaweed. Struggling to lurch out further, she offered the crying infant out to her father. “Must raise him on land,” she said, voice resembling a chorus of twenty singing voices all talking over one another. “Then return him to the sea to find me. As I was returned.”
The man glanced down, a crying young human boy with pudgy arms and legs reaching out towards him, eyes gleaming. With the next swell bringing them closer and without hesitation, the man reached into the waves to pull the dripping boy out of his daughter’s arms. He pulled him to his chest, drenching his clothing in salt water. “Is he yours?”
His daughter only nodded, taking another glance down at her son and playfully smiling again. The man tilted his head. All these years he had wondered, and now he was sure. She was happy.
She muttered something in an intelligible language half heard with the ears and the other with the mind; a sing song string of notes understood more with emotions rather than meaning. The boy quieted, and without another glance backwards, she sunk into the waves.
“No, Nerida!” her father called, running down the levy as fast as he remembered his old legs ever carrying him. “I have questions! Where have you been? Who is he?”
He opened his mouth, heart beating in his throat. “Is your mother with you…”
He swore he saw the flip of a tail in the distance before the sinking feeling of being completely alone returned to him.
He stared at the horizon for a few moments more before a sharp kick to his ribs brought his attention down to the boy. He had turquoise eyes, just like his mother and grandmother, with many facial features he recognized. Others, he did not.
He sighed, staring into his closing, sleepy eyes. He began pulling some of the kelp away from him and tossing it back to the sea. Strand after strand, he tore away his beginnings until something cool and hard rubbed against his fingertips. Tilting his head, he let another piece of the slippery dressing fall away to expose half of a smooth glass heart, far more worn now and covered with sea grime.
He narrowed his eyes, digging into his pocket and pulling out his half of a glass heart split between him and his wife over 60 years ago. Holding his breath, he clinked the two together in a perfect match. He stared in disbelief, turning his gaze back out to the sea.
He nodded, turning away from ocean and towards land, clutching his grandson in his arms just a little tighter. He had yet to open his eyes.