Carol looked wistfully across the sandy beach to the ocean beyond. A gentle surf lapped against the shore. She found the sound relaxing, but what she really wanted was to immerse herself in the salty water. She wanted to feel sand squishing between her toes and the froth of the waves splashing over her shoulders.
Their two kids, Jaxson and Siobhan, were busy constructing a sandcastle. They were digging a series of canals to feed seawater into the moat. The canal required much re-digging, as the soaking sand slumped back in as fast as they could excavate it. They’d be at it for a while.
Carol glanced over at her husband in the next lounge chair. “Owen, can you watch the kids for a few minutes? I want to go in for a swim.”
Owen looked up from his book, frowning. He glanced to where the kids were playing, then back at Carol. “I’m reading. Can you make it quick?”
“Yes, just a quick dip then I’ll be back here. Thanks.”
Soon Carol was wading through the incoming waves. Up to her knees, up to her waist. She walked out a bit further, straining against the pressure of the water. Now up to her shoulders.
She pulled up her knees and immersed herself in the water. It was cold, but refreshing after sitting on the hot beach. She came up for air, then immersed herself again.
Something grazed her foot. What was that?
Before she could pull herself away from whatever was near her foot, something grabbed her foot. And tugged.
Once, twice, it tugged. Then—
Carol felt herself pulled down, under the water and further out from the shore. She felt like she was moving through the water at torpedo speed. She held on to the last breath she had taken before being pulled under. She hadn’t even had time to scream.
Further and further the thing pulled her. Then, just as Carol thought she couldn’t hold her breath any longer, the thing slowed down. Finally, it pulled her upward a short distance.
Carol broke through the surface of the water, immediately drawing in a lung-full of air. She gasped in as much air as she could. Then she looked around. She was in a cave. She was still under the sea somewhere, but she could breathe.
Hearing a splash behind her, Carol spun around. A beautiful woman gazed at her. She had creamy skin, and auburn hair that floated on the water. The woman smiled shyly then dove back under the water, her tail sending droplets of water in all directions.
Carol thought she hadn’t seen properly. She could be hallucinating from the lack of oxygen. A tail?
The woman broke through the surface again, and then two others appeared beside her. The other two were as beautiful as the first, one with deep chestnut tresses, and the other golden blonde.
The first woman spoke. “Hi, thanks for visiting us. We get awful lonely for company.”
“Who are you?” Carol asked. “What are you? And where am I”
The women giggled, then took turns explaining, interrupting each other in their rush to put Carol at ease.
“We’re mermaids!” Then they pointed at each other to introduce Andromeda as the redhead, Cassiopeia as the dark-haired one, and Virgo as the blonde. They explained that they had lived in and around this underwater cave for centuries. Visitors were rare, and special.
Virgo swam over to a dark recess in the cave, and returned pulling a floating pool chair behind her.
“Climb in, Carol,” Virgo urged. “You’re our special guest today.”
Slightly dazed, Carol pulled herself into the chair. Virgo gathered Carol’s right hand into hers, and began massaging it.
“Oh, you could use a manicure,” Virgo exclaimed, leaning close to look at Carol’s fingernails. “Hang on.”
She splashed away and returned momentarily with a plastic box. She opened the box, and began pulling out manicure tools. She tethered the box to the chair, so it wouldn’t float away.
Cassiopeia swam over with a drinking glass, which she put in the cupholder in the arm of the floating chair. “Wine spritzer,” she explained. “It’s good, try it.”
Virgo giggled at Carol’s expression. “All sorts of things fall off ships around here,” she said, pointing a nail file towards the glittering strands of battery-powered LED lights that lit up the cave. “We’re well stocked in most things.”
Finished with Carol’s fingernails, Virgo propped up Carol’s feet on a pool noodle and began on her toenails. Cassiopeia gave Carol a facial, while Andromeda massaged her scalp and braided her hair.
Carol protested feebly. “I can’t stay, my husband will worry. He’s watching the children, and I said I would only be a minute.”
“Oh, don’t worry about that,” Andromeda assured her, “Time down here doesn’t pass at the same speed as up there. He’ll hardly notice you’re gone. Trust me.”
The wine spritzer (or, let’s be honest, spritzers), made Carol drowsy and she dozed while the three mermaids fussed over her. She woke what seemed to be a long time later.
Her finger and toe nails were trimmed and painted a bright coral. Her hair was plaited and coiled around her head. Every muscle in her body felt relaxed.
“This is the first time I’ve felt like I was on vacation,” Carol said.
At her voice, the mermaids swam up to her. “Do you want to stay? We’d love the extra company.”
“I’d love to,” Carol said, “but I think I should get back. The kids will be anxious if I’m gone too long.”
“We understand,” said Andromeda. After each mermaid gave Carol a warm hug, Carol drew a deep breath and Andromeda pulled her down and out of the cave. Then up, up, up to the surface.
Carol’s head popped out of the water in almost the same place she had been swimming earlier. She swam, then waded to shore.
“Hi, I’m back!” she called to the kids. They squinted up from their castle and moat project briefly, then continued their construction efforts.
“Hi, I’m back!” she said to Owen, as she flopped back into her beach chair. Owen looked up from his book for a moment. He wondered how long she’d been doing her hair that way.
“That seemed like more than a minute,” he said. Then he put the book up in front of his face again and continued reading.
Carol sat on the edge of her chair. She felt like she’d just woken up from a dream. A beautiful relaxing dream. Then she looked down at her sand-dusted feet.
Her toenails were painted bright coral.