You stand at the shoreline, watching as the water rides the sand in and out. The sky is bright and blue overhead and all around you, people bustle up and down the beach, throwing beach balls or laughing in groups or lounging around under broad umbrellas. You try to ignore all of them and soon the only thing you can hear is the crash of the waves, each the song of a siren calling you toward the deep.
When you step into the water, you can feel the broken bits of seashells and stones beneath your feet. The water is cold as it washes up around your legs and soon the seashells are smaller, fine grains of sand that swirl about you. The water claws onto your body as you drift outward, into the siren’s song, captivated by the glimmer of light scintillating upon the surface just a few feet ahead.
You cringe when the water reaches your waist, give a slight howl as the thorns of ice pierce your flesh and cause your core to cramp. But you press on, eager to find that golden surface, to indulge in the mystic melodies married in the air around you. The taste of salt stings on your tongue as you push further into the ocean, but the taste only whets your appetite until you thirst for more.
Finally the water is at your neck and you must move your arms back and forth to stay afloat. You see a wall of white rising before you, rearing back from the horizon like the leviathan of ancient times, opening its maw to swallow you whole. You turn toward the shore and kick off from the sand just in time for the beast to swim beneath you–but right on its heals, another comes in to attack.
The water pulls you into its grasp, spinning you around under the water in a whirl of deafening thunder. You break the surface, gasping, choking for oxygen, and the spell–the spell is finally broken. No longer do you hear the sirens singing. No longer do you see the gold allure of the ocean. Now all that fills your eyes is the watery beast that calls out for its next victim to swim willingly into its stomach. ♦
Axel watched as his brothers of the tribe ran into the water like swordfish cutting through the waves–so why couldn’t he? He stomped his feet in the foam that washed over his feet and ran his hands back through his black hair as he surveyed the beach. It’d be easy to run off now and hide behind one of the dunes until they all came back. No one would question his absence if he came up with a convincing story, if he splashed his face with seawater until it looked like he’d gone for a swim, if he watched them just long enough to say, “Of course I was out there! I saw when Roen splashed you. How else would I know that?”
Yet for as much as Axel wanted to run away, he knew there was something out there that was calling out to him. Past the bouncing bodies of his friends, he saw where the sun hit the water and it shone gold. Scales of the sea god. He was there, swimming past them, granting his protection while they trained to be the fishermen they were meant to be.
Father would never let him onto the fishing boats if he couldn’t swim. He’d be a disgrace to his entire village if he was the only boy who wouldn’t step into the ocean, who never received the blessing of the sea god. He wouldn’t have that, he wouldn’t!
Axel held his breath and walked toward the shimmering surface in the distance. The water was cold as it crept up his legs, and he had to suck in his stomach to bear the freezing fingers of the ocean that attempted to constrict around his waist. But he wouldn’t stop, he couldn’t. Soon the waves were crashing into his chest and he had to shut his eyes and squint to keep going. All his friends were swimming further out now, but he didn’t care. He had made it this far and now he was rising and falling as the ocean rushed past him. He felt the water push him back one second, then pull him out the next. The tug of war startled him at first, but as he sunk into the rhythm, he was able to anticipate the waves as they reached him and ride them even better than he had before.
Then he felt something. On the back of his leg. It wasn’t natural. Not water. He swallowed uneasily as he turned–turned just in time to see something bright darting back into the water. He stared at the same spot for a minute; then the next wave pushed him off the feet and pulled him under. Axel flailed his arms, but he wasn’t rising toward the surface, only kicking up sand that clouded the water around him. He shook his head–why wasn’t he surfacing? He should’ve surfaced already!
That’s when he saw the eyes. Beautiful golden eyes. Hands grabbed his shoulders and steadied his arms. Lips pressed into his and filled his lungs with sweet, salty air. Then Axel felt his hands fall upon a large, scaled body, and he knew the sea god was swimming beside him. A whisper through the waves told him to hold on–and he did. In an instant he was flying through the water, watching the shadow of the dragon on the sand below as the sun cascaded down through the waves above.
When Axel looked up again he was facing the sky, spots in his eyes telling him he had been staring at it for a long time. He sat up slowly, uncertain when he had gotten back to the shore, but feeling numb from the foam that washed up and down his body. The others were coming back from their swim. They’d never believe he’d followed them and gone swimming with the sea god. They’d just tell him he hadn’t gone into the water at all. ♦
Excerpted from Me, You, and Them