There was something magical about swimming below the water. With all sounds muffled, and the steady heartbeat of the ocean currents all around, it transported Cleo to another world. She had spent a relaxing hour on the reefs around Mako, just looking at the coral and shells, but now she was suspended in the vast blue of the open ocean.
When they'd first become mermaids it had been terrifying to her, being suspended like this, with nothing but endless blue in all directions. If the light was just right, sometimes you couldn't even tell if you were looking up towards the surface or down into the depths. Back then she'd imagined that she could start swimming and never find air again.
But so much had happened since then. Now the ocean was safe, peaceful, and no longer scary to her. Nothing could sneak up on them, and the larger sea animals left them alone instinctively. She'd even had the nerve wrecking opportunity to swim with a great white once. It had come close to her, but they'd found that no sea creature would intentionally harm them.
So with time she'd relaxed, spending minutes on end just floating with the currents in the blue water.
But eventually she knew she'd have to go back to land and her life. She was looking forward to a new school year, though it would cut into their free time to swim. They'd all felt torn the first year as mermaids, constantly trying to balance the need to stay focused on school and their home lives. But at the same time there was a near constant pull to be in the water. With time they'd gotten used to their new schedule, and with frequent trips to Mako throughout the week they managed to quiet the urges to stay out in the ocean all the time.
The pull they felt to be in the ocean was still there, but was tempered by the knowledge they'd be able to spend plenty of time there after school and on the weekends. Sometimes Cleo worried that the desire to swim would grow so much that they'd stop coming back to land entirely. She never mentioned it to the other girls, but she was so glad that she had her family and Lewis to keep her coming back from the water.
The need to breath was slowly starting to burn in her chest and so she propelled herself upwards. Breaking the surface she took a few deep breaths and marked where the sun was sitting in the sky. She'd been out for at least an hour, maybe two, which would have been plenty of time for her boyfriend to have finished that report. Diving again she started back towards the mainland and the beach. There was a nicely secluded spot where she and Lewis liked to fish. It was also a great place to change back to human form without any prying eyes.
With the speed they could swim at, thanks to the innate magic they possessed, it took only ten minutes to get within sight of the beach. She slowed down to remain unseen from the boats above and made her way towards the small bit of beach that was her destination. It was odd though. The boats above her were heading deeper out to sea instead of floating around closer to the beach. Cleo shrugged it off as unusual and kept swimming. About fifteen feet from the shore she surfaced again.
She brushed her hair from her eyes and looked around to double check that she was alone. It was a good thing too as an older couple in bathing suits was just climbing along the beaches rocks. Cleo ducked down a bit to stay hidden, but she really didn't need to bother. The two were completely focused on getting across the rocky stretch of beach as fast as they could, with occasional fearful looks behind them. Out in the water Cleo heard the man urging his wife to move quicker and wondered what was going on.
Curious, and a little unsure, she turned her attention to the beach on the other side of the rocks and swam around them out in the water to get a better look at what was happening.
It was a scene straight out of a horror film. The beach was littered with towels, iceboxes, and other abandoned personal items. Big patches of sand were stained red with blood, though only a few of the spots also had bodies. Those that were on the ground were mangled beyond recognition. The sand was torn up from thousands of running people.
Cleo's dark eyes were wide in shock as she tried to see what had killed them. It only took a minute of observation to see that what she assumed was a crowd of panicking beachgoers was in fact split into two types. One group was running and screaming, and the other was attacking the first group. The sand was rapidly clearing as some people tried to run back towards the town, while others were trying to swim out into the rough waves to escape. The group of insane people followed both, but they seemed to struggle once the water got deeper than their shoulders.
A small group of the panicked swimmers was heading towards her, so Cleo dove back under the water. The scene that she was able to see was just as bad in the water. Those swimmers who were far enough out seemed safe enough, if a little tired. But those still close to the beach were being pulled under the water by the rabid attackers. Instead of attempting to swim at this point, the monstrous things were just standing under the water, reaching for the dangling legs of the terrified crowd above them. It didn't make sense how they could still be attacking. They should be drowning by now, not trying to bite into the poor souls they'd gotten ahold of.
Cleo felt frozen watching all this happen. It was surreal. She'd only been gone not even two hours at this point, but somehow the world had ended while she was away. She was jolted into action when she noticed a father was struggling to swim and hold his tiny daughter out of the water. He was dangerously close to the creatures and they were getting close to grabbing his kicking legs.
At any other time Cleo would have been terrified to reveal herself, but she couldn't stand the thought of having to watch that baby drowning or being eaten. He was clearly trying to keep away from the crowds of people, seeing as many of them were going crazy in the mist of their panic and were pushing others under the water in attempt to save themselves. He'd avoided the people, but being alone made him an enticing target for the creatures. As quickly as she could Cleo swam over, and once she was close enough, used her powers to blast a stream of water towards the creatures closest to the pair, shoving them towards the beach and giving her time to swim over and surface next to the man.
He screamed and went to shove her away, but only managed to take in a swallow of salt water.
"It's okay! It's okay! I'm going to help you!" She held up a hand to calm him and subtly moved the water to help buoy him up. His baby couldn't have been more than a year old and was screaming hysterically from the noise and the burn of salt water in her face. With a wave of her hand Cleo gently pulled the water off her face, leaving it dry. She didn't calm much, but at least it had helped her screams to become closer to regular sobs.
"You're...a mermaid? That's…!" The man couldn't seem to get anything else out, completely overwhelmed with panic and shock from the day.
"You can freak out later. Those things are too close under the water. They were about to grab you." Cleo decided taking charge was the best way to snap him out of his stupor. They didn't have time for him to babble about her not being real. Almost as if to make her point, a woman a few yards away screamed as she was dragged under.
Cleo looked around and saw that some of the boats had come closer and were encouraging people to swim to them. She picked one that was a little ways out from the others, since desperate people were swarming those that were closer. If they weren't careful they'd capsize.
"Here," she turned her back to him, "keep her out of the water and I can get you to a boat." Nearing exhaustion and out of options, the man decided trusting the mythical creature was the best chance he had to protect his daughter. He grabbed onto Cleo's shoulder with one hand and held his baby close to his neck with the other. Doing her best to keep the baby's head above water, Cleo towed them to the boat she had spotted before.
The people on board encouraged them towards the safety of the boat, but fell silent when they were close enough to see her tail. Blushing a bit Cleo tried to ignore the hushed exclamations of surprise and awe. They got to the back of the boat and it was the cries of the little girl that got them moving. They pulled her and her father onboard, and hesitantly held out hands to help Cleo up as well. She shook her head but took the chance to ask some questions while they got the two she'd saved settled with a towel.
"What happened here?"
The older bearded man closest to her blinked for a moment in surprise, clearly shocked that she was speaking to them. But he recovered quickly and waved at the beach and the chaos there.
"We're not too sure. There was a fight earlier on with some women and a few young men. Then not half an hour later another fight broke out. By then we were getting worried and all got on the boats. It all went to shit from there." He ran a hand over his face. "Maybe I've seen too many scary movies, but I'd swear these things were zombies." Cleo looked back towards the beach, but had to look away as a small group of the zombies was eating something on the sand. When she turned back the man was openly staring at her, and the rest of the small group wasn't much better. "I'm sorry," he began hesitantly, "but...you're a mermaid? That's not just a hyper realistic prosthetic?"
It hit Cleo then, now that she wasn't trying to keep two people from dying, that she was openly talking to a stranger with her tail in full view.
"A-ah, well you see...errr..." she stuttered a moment, but was saved from needing to answer when a new chorus of screams began and they all turned to look.
They were far enough away that the majority of the swimmers hadn't even tried to get to this boat. But sadly people were now swarming a small sailing boat that had been the closest to the shore. Everyone was trying to get on, and it couldn't take the strain. As they watched, it capsized, sending people under the water and creating more fear. The other boats turned then, going deeper out to avoid a similar fate.
"...You should get out of here." Cleo was getting worried now. The boats that hadn't already started leaving were being attacked. It was already starting to look bad, and it promised to get worse.
"Right," the bearded man stood then. "Scott, get the engine going. We can't risk that hoard of people pulling us under too." Cleo moved away from the propeller and jumped when a hand landed on her shoulder. "Would you like to come with us?"
She smiled up at the older man. "I'll be alright. I need to check on my family too. I shouldn't even be talking to you," she muttered the last bit to herself. Rikki and Emma were going to have a fit when they heard about this. "But, thank you." He nodded and she went to dive but paused at another voice.
"Wait! Miss mermaid!" The dad she'd saved was leaning over the side, clutching his daughter to him, "You saved our lives. I don't know how to thank you. I don't even know your name." Cleo stared at him for a moment, then to the little girl. She was completely cried out, and sleeping against her father with her blonde curls plastered to his shoulder.
"Cleo." The teen smiled up at him, "I'm glad I was close enough to help. Don't let anything happen to her. That's how you can thank me." Completely embarrassed by his thanks, Cleo dove and swam down from the boat to watch as it took off to deeper water and safety. Alone now she thought about trying to help others, but it had become a fight above her in the water. The smart swimmers had started making their way parallel to the beach to get to a spot without the insane humans.
Besides, she shouldn't have let anyone see her anyways. She should find a different spot to get out and go see how they could try and fix this. It had to be safe further up the beach, right?