Chapter 1: Please, For the Love of All that is Holy, L I S T E N, CHILDREN
Leaf and Chip like to break rules. Will breaks them only grudgingly. Olive is lonely. Somehow, things go horribly wrong.
[Alright, children,] Rona said. [What’s the rule about surfacing? Yes, Logainne?]
[Surface slowly and make sure there's no humans around!]
[Yes. Remember, humans have strong violent tendencies towards unfamiliar beings, so it's better to err on the side of caution.]
A small ginger seahorse quickly raised his hand.
[If humans are dangerous, then why do we do the trip?]
She sighed. [Because we go as humans, Leaf. They don't know who we actually are. They assume we're a group from a different area. But that's for a different time.] Rona swam to the door. [Break time. Stay nearby. All of you are too young to risk surfacing.]
Logainne grabbed Leaf’s arm and guided him out the door. He leaned close to her. [Logainne…]
[We should go to the rocks,] he whispered. [My sister said they're really cool.]
[No! No, Miss Perretti said no surfacing!]
He gave her puppy dog eyes, somehow looking sad but excited. [Please? It'll be fun. And we'll be safer if we go together!]
[You can't go anywhere without me, Leaf. You're permanently trapped in the buddy system. So no, we're not going!]
[Where are you going?] Marigold interrupted.
[Leaf’s trying to break the rules!] Logainne said.
[I’m just curious!] Leaf turned to his sister’s escort. [C’mon, Will! Do you wanna go to the sitting rocks?]
Leaf groaned. [Work with me here. I'm not the only one that's curious! You guys are a bunch of squids.]
[It’s not worth it. We'd get in trouble.] Will frowned, not appreciating being forced into the conversation. [Just wait until after school. You know how strict Miss Perretti and Mr Mahoney are. Going now is a dumb idea.]
[Can you take me after school, then?]
Will sighed. [Fine. After school.]
[This is a worse idea than I originally thought,] Will mused.
Leaf poked his head above the water. [It’s all clear. Come on, let's go to the rocks.] They surfaced onto the rocks and took in their surroundings. [Wow! It's so-]
[Shitty,] Will finished. [This is depressing. I hate it.] He glanced at the shore and yelped. [People!] When Leaf didn't duck down behind the rocks, Will tugged him down. [Are you trying to get us killed?]
[It’s just a child,] he pointed out. [That’s only person there. It's fine.] Leaf went silent and watched the person on the shore. A few minutes later, he had an opinion on the person. [Humans are cute.]
[They’re weird.] A few more people appeared on the beach and Will hid again.
[There’s another young one,] Leaf said. [Long brown hair.] They watched the people on the beach in silence.
Olive Ostrovsky had had a miserable day. Everyone at her new school had been too intimidating to talk to, her mom was still in India, and her dad wasn't home. She had no friends, no parents, and no siblings. No one. So when she got home after school, she cleaned out her lunchbox and put in her dinner, grabbed a book, and left a note saying she had gone down to the beach. Then she had packed her food, book, and towel in the basket of her bike and ridden to the nearby shore. It was empty. Vacation season was over and school had started, and it was a more residential area anyway. She laid out her blanket, sat down, and cracked open her book.
Charlito Tolentino didn't normally go to the beach alone. He didn't ever swim alone, but today was a different kind of day. Today, all he wanted was a break from his friends and from people in general. They weren't bad friends, but they were loud and annoying at times and right now he needed some solitude. Alone time was something he didn't get at home. He shared a room with his brother. There wasn't a space in the rest of the house for him to be alone, so he rode out to the beach and spent it there.
Swimming was something peaceful for him. It wasn't his sport of choice - that was baseball, and he prided himself on his pitching in particular - but it was soothing to be surrounded by the gentle waves, to feel the cold water giving relief from the constant heat. He knew that he shouldn't swim alone, but he wasn't really swimming, just wading, and he was a strong swimmer. He'd be fine.
Olive was unaware of anyone else on the beach. It was, after all, a large area, and she was rather absorbed by her book. So she didn't notice a boy walking into the ocean. She didn't notice him lay back and float for a few minutes. Olive didn't know that he was somehow pulled further out to sea to a riptide that trapped him partially underwater, sending him into a blind panic.
Chip was painfully aware of all of this because it was happening to him. Yeah, he might've swam out a bit too far to float, and yes, he might've gotten stuck in a riptide. This was definitely a problem. Even someone thinking calmly and rationally would have found this a difficult situation, and a twelve-year-old was anything but calm and rational. His first reaction was to swim out of the riptide, something that was not going to work but he had convinced himself it could if he could just keep swimming. After a minute of furious, futile paddling he knew that it wasn't going to work. But what else could he do? If he was going to die a sad, lonely death, he at least wanted to die knowing he had tried something to stop it.
He was young and athletic, but he was panicking. Within two minutes he had no air left. Still, he used what energy remained to swim upward.
God, if only he had stayed home. It wasn't that loud. His brother wasn't that irritating. He would trade hours of future alone time to be at home right now, and not struggling in the ocean against certain death. What would his family think? What would his friends say? Everyone knew not to swim alone because of this. He was going to be remembered as that dumbass who broke the rules put in place to keep people from dying like this.
It was getting harder now. His legs weren't kicking anymore and his arms slowly drifted to his sides. The temptation to breath in was tremendous and he finally gave in. It would happen eventually, and the longer he struggled the worse it would hurt. His vision dimmed. He stopped thinking, stopped observing, stopped caring. None of that mattered now.
Chapter 2: Everything Has Gone Horribly Wrong. Great Going, Kids.
Everyone finds out the consequences of breaking the rules.
[Will. Will.] Leaf tugged on Will’s arm. [Can humans breathe underwater?]
He froze. [No. Why are you asking?]
[Cause that first kid we saw went underwater awhile ago and I haven't seen him come back up.] He looked nervous. [Is he dead?]
Will sighed. [Show me where you saw him go under.]
[It was up here to the left.] As Will swam them out, Leaf gave directions. [More left. Turn a little right. Keep going straight. I think it was here?] There was a dark blotch just a little further ahead of them. There was Chip, trapped in the riptide and unconscious.
[Oh my god.] Will resurfaced and looked at Leaf. [I think he's dead.]
[We can't leave him here! Can't you swim him to shore?]
[He’s stuck in a riptide, Leaf. I don't know if I can get him out of it.]
[We have to try. He's just a kid. We can't let him die here.] He was genuinely concerned. No one, human or mermaid, should die stranded in the middle of the ocean. They needed to get him out of there. [You're a strong swimmer. Please, Barf.]
Will shoved Leaf back and dove underwater. He grabbed the kid’s arm and pulled. It was hard work. He strained and pulled against the current until he managed to get the boy out of it. Will slowly swam the boy over to the rocks where they had been resting and lay him on top of there. He retrieved Leaf and they looked at the human they had just rescued.
[I don't think he's breathing,] Will murmured.
[Get Miss Peretti! Get Mister Mahoney! My mom, my dad, your parents, someone, anyone!] Leaf was frantic. [We have to do something!]
Will dove underwater and swam back for help. Leaf stayed with the boy. He was frighteningly still and silent. His eyes were closed and his lips were slightly parted. Curious, he lifted the boy’s arm. It was limp in his hands.
Ms Peretti, Mr Mahoney, and Will all resurfaced next to him.
[Oh, dear,] Ms Peretti said upon seeing the boy. [You pulled him out of a riptide, you said?]
Will nodded. [He wasn't breathing then, and he still isn't.]
Mr Mahoney grunted. [So he's dead. Swim him to the beach and leave him for his folk to find.]
[Isn't there something we can do?] Leaf pleaded. [He’s not old enough to die. Look at him. He's as young as…] It hit him. [He’s as young as me.]
The two adults shared a glance. [Well,] Ms Peretti said, [we could try removing the water from his lungs. But even then, we'd have to kickstart his breathing somehow.] Leaf’s pleading expression was the answer she need. With practiced precision, she forced the water out of his lungs. The magically-charged water flew out of Chip’s mouth as if he had spat it out. Still, his chest was still. [Mitch, grab an air bubble. A small one. I have an idea.]
He nodded and quickly returned with the requested item. Ms Peretti pulled the boy into the water and had Leaf and Will hold him against the wall of rock. As she repeatedly pushed against his chest, Mr Mahoney shoved the air bubble in his mouth and shut it. They pulled him back onto the rocks. Rona continued pumping his chest until he coughed. They fell back and watched carefully as he coughed and wheezed. His eyes stayed closed, but his breaking steadied.
[Take him to shore, Mitch. Quickly.] He scooped Chip up and swam off. Rona turned to Leaf and Will. [You two have a lot of explaining to do.]
Leaf grinned nervously and Will shrunk under her gaze.
[It was his fault - he wanted to come up here!]
[You didn't have to take me! You were the deciding factor!]
Will splashed Leaf. [I only took you because you asked! I was being a good friend.]
Leaf splashed back. [I’m irresponsible! You shouldn't listen to me!]
It turned into a splash fight, then a slap fight. Ms Peretti swam between them and grabbed their arms. [BOYS! That is ENOUGH. You might have saved that boy’s life, but you broke the rules we gave you. I'm not sure if I should dole out punishment or if I should leave it to your parents.] The mention of their parents scared them into submission.
[Please don't tell my dad,] Leaf said.
[One of you could have been seriously hurt up here, or even seen! It's obvious that neither of you listened today.]
[Does Leaf ever listen?] Will muttered. Leaf slapped him. Ms Peretti grabbed them by the earfins. They both yelped.
[BOTH of you are in serious trouble. Once Mister Mahoney returns, we’re going home, and I'm telling all of your parents what happened.] She sighed. [I’m glad you two saved that human’s life, don't get me wrong, but you don't understand how dangerous that was.]
Chip was absolutely confounded.
From what he remembered, he should be dead right now. The last thing he could recall before he blacked out was being stuck underwater. But now he was on the shore, breathing freely. He scrambled to his feet and found his bike. He pulled out his phone and stared at it. Should he call his mama or the hospital? As scared as he was, he called his mama. She picked up almost immediately.
“Charlito? Why are you calling home? Is something wrong?”
“Mama, I-” the words caught in his throat. He had almost died. That was a lot for a twelve year old to handle. “Can you pick me up from the beach? I don't know if I should ride my bike back.”
“What's wrong? What happened?”
“I…. something really weird just happened. I'll try and tell you when you get here.”
“Is it our normal spot?”
“Yeah. I'll go wait by the entrance.”
“Good. Mahal kita, bunso.”
“Mahal kita, ina.” He hung up and slowly walked his bike to the beach entrance. Maybe he needed a break from the water for awhile.