Into The Depths
How far must a man go to challenge his fears? What if he were never to overcome them?
This man, in particular, takes on his phobia of the sea and is faced with something that will disturb him for the rest of his life.
Estimated reading time: 17 minutes
About a five-minute walk from Millgate Sands, you’ll find a cozy little beach house that my uncle used to own and stay at. Uncle Thom, who had never had a wife or children of his own, saw me as his son, favored me over my sister and all my cousins, and I saw him as the third parent who’d always lent me an ear when I felt nobody bothered listening. When his stomach cancer took him 22 years ago, I was willed this cozy, humble beach house.
As blessed as I should’ve felt to have this place all to myself, it barely filled the void made by his passing, because then, the only difference was that I’d spent my time here alone.
So, after that, I got a better understanding of my true self: a legitimate loner. I go out for long walks in the woods; go out to the beach to stroll along the shoreline and watch the sunset; spend two to three weeks at a time in this beach house, and I can go on without speaking a word to anybody if it weren’t for the occasional tourist asking for directions.
Staying alone, I can do anything I want to, but my myriad fears restrict me.
Thalassophobia. That’s one phobia I have. When in the water, when the level is up to my chest, I freak out, especially when I can’t clearly see what I’m standing on. What if a hand grabs your ankles and pulls you away, or a slimy long tentacle starts coiling around your waist- all these kinds of thoughts revolve around my mind when I’m in the water. I know, it’s funny because I stay at Millgate Sands, a beach, but I don’t swim.
And another phobia of mine: the dark. Nyctophobia. Again, it’s because it’s a little harder to see things clearly. There could be someone watching you, even following you, and you wouldn’t even know it. So, since forever, I sleep with the lights on, even now that I’m a dying man in his mid-forties.
These are only two fears of mine but not all. There are many more.
Here’s one (debatably) good thing about me though: I make it a point to challenge myself and push mental boundaries. So, a spontaneous idea came to me one day 21 years ago when strolling along the shoreline of Millgate Sands and waiting to watch the sun meet the horizon—I will overcome my fears of the dark and the sea tonight, I thought, what a great idea.
It was about an hour before dusk, so I sat in the sand and waited for an hour or so. Before that day, the usual case would be that I’d leave the beach when the sky turns a shade of pink and reach home before it turns dark blue. That day, though, as I watched the lonely beach goers around me slowly disperse and leave, I stayed until the black sky was filled with stars, and then I gathered my courage, walked into the cold water, and inched myself further and deeper until I was at chest-level with the sea.
Standing there, I closed my eyes, cleared my thoughts, and then I eventually found myself growing a fondness to the calming sounds around me. The breeze in my face, the swashing and crashing of the waves. I’m doing it, something I couldn’t do all my life, something I’ve been missing out on all along.
When I opened my eyes, I was looking at the mass of stars hanging above me, and I had never wished that I could be stuck in that moment forever. Something told me, though, that I wasn’t alone, and then a prominent swooshing sound in the water reaffirmed this notion; something is swimming towards me.
I turn back and that’s when I see her, my crush, a passion beyond absurd. And it is not at all what you think, even unimaginable for many of you, but let’s make one thing clear: this mermaid is absolutely ugly, as ugly as sin, uglier than any deep-water fish you’ll find, but she’s got me hooked. Call it a hex, or black magic… whatever. She’s got me swooned.
Time passed me by like a bullet, and I don’t know how long for; me staring at her, her at me. My brain’s overloaded and jammed with overwhelming, contradicting emotions. That is to say, I was scared and also comforted, repulsed and also attracted, baffled and also enlightened, and those’re all understatements that don’t even make much sense. All in all, I was overwhelmed—leave it at that.
After what I believe were hours of looking into each other’s eyes, I got a weak hold of my consciousness, turned around and began walking towards the shore, stumped and stunned beyond belief. As I walked away, she followed, and when I reached the shore, she stayed there, staring at me, smiling at me, uglier than the slimiest toad you can find.
Then I reached home and the worst of the worst fever struck me. All I could do was go straight to bed and lie on my back like a corpse, staring at the ceiling and sweating profusely in my wet clothes.
Fever dreams of caressing her scaly, slippery skin, her thick, viscous hair in my fingers. Fever dreams of going deep down into the sea with her, surrounded by black nothingness, echoes of distant roaring and rattling all around us. Fever dreams of holding her thin, clammy fish-like body against mine, her heart beating against my ear.
Needless to say, I couldn’t get any proper sleep in, but I laid still in bed all the way up until the next midnight. Honestly, I thought I could die like this, and it never seemed to end; I had to do something about it; had to make a decision right now. Right there and then, I forced myself out of bed and started planning what to do. Despite my state of mind, I demanded logic to come forth and help me. First thing first, I unloaded a stomach full of puke into the toilet bowl.
Then, I grabbed a kitchen knife and stormed out of my house without even locking the door, still wearing the shorts and singlet I wore to swim in last night. I’m all stinking of sweat, wet clothes, vomit, and looking like I’d just dug myself out of a grave, all pale and tensed up from my face to my legs. And I’m marching over to the beach with a knife in my hand that I couldn’t bother concealing. The very few passersby who saw me, ran off in the opposite direction.
Before reaching Millgate sands, I tucked the knife into the back of my shorts, and then I went on ahead. By intuition, I knew she was waiting there for me… and she was. Like the night before, there was nobody else around us, so there she was, blatantly sitting at the shore with her fish-tail wrapped gracefully around her waist. She looks at me with her massive, bulging, unlidded eyes.
In her ugly, raspy, high-pitched voice, the first thing she said was, “Why would you bring a knife if you aren’t going to use it?”
Of course, she knew I brought it, but I ignored her question and asked her my own: “What do you want from me?”
The tip of her tail flips back and forth in the sand like the ticking hand of a metronome clock, an absent-minded motion. “Deep inside, you are broken, sad, afraid… weak, and so I came to you as a remedy.” She looks at an approaching solo passerby and doesn’t do anything to hide herself, and then she looks back at me. “What do I want in return? Your exclusive company. Cut off all ties with everybody you know. Be with me and only me.”
A remedy to my flaws? Superficially, it seems ironic, but at the same time it makes so much sense to me. The trade, though, gets me thinking. I legitimately have no friends, so that’s not an issue. But family? Yeah, I can probably live my entire life as a hermit, but thinking about it again, is that really the life that I want? As distant as I am from them, do I want to spend my life without ever seeing them again?
The approaching man finally passes by, nodding and smiling at me, absolutely unaware of the mermaid blatantly seated in front of me, which adds more confusion to my head brimmed with questions, so then I ask her, “What are you?”
For a long moment, she leaves the question cold and only looks up at the moonlit sky and stars. The long silence fills me up with serenity, but I’m consciously fighting her spell, so it’s like I’m going in and out of a wonderful dream. Finally, she says, “I don’t know many things, but I know I can be your strength and happiness if you want me to.”
The trade, though, the trade, it gets my already overheated brain working overtime. Then, I decide: “This is not what I want. I will live with my flaws, as long as I can be with my family.” As I’m saying this, I’m reaching for my knife behind my back. “No matter how estranged I am from them, or how insignificant I may be to them… it doesn’t matter, as long as I can see them again for the rest of my life.”
Unexpectedly, all she does is nod and then slither her way back to sea. Just like that, I’m released from the spell as if by the snap of a finger. My senses come back to me and suddenly I’m aware of the freezing cold, aware that all around me is darkness, and I’m starting to consciously register the strange, horrifying situation that had betided me.
It’s 3AM and I’m lying in bed, phoning my mom, talking to her like it’s my last day on earth. “If I were to go missing… how many people would go searching for me?”
“Honestly, probably not many,” she says and chuckles with her sleepy 3AM voice, “except your dad and I… your sister, aunties, uncles… cousins. That’s pretty much it.”
“If I were never found, who will remember me?”
“All of us. Always. Forever on the back of our minds.”
Wiping the tear from my eye, I choke back the lump in my throat and continue: “Even if I were never really there for any of you? Never present, always in my own world.”
“Darlin’, you’d always been… reclusive, a true-blue lone wolf, just like your favorite Uncle Thom, but that doesn’t mean you’re nothing to us.”
“I’ll be back home tomorrow or so,” I said, and then I slept on a pillow drenched in tears.
21 years later, I’d be diagnosed with advanced leukemia and have been trying my best to keep it hidden from everyone. More than that, I’m not fighting it, and I don’t want to, much like Uncle Thom and his stomach cancer. Of course, for someone with many fears, I’m afraid of death, but most of all, I’m tired of living in fear and depression.
For all my self-pity, at least I have a precious nephew, the son of my sister who I’m not particularly chummy with, but whose son I’ve grown a liking for. He comes around to my beach house occasionally, a relationship much like Uncle Thom and me, and I have even willed him this place. It took me long enough to realize, but I finally saw it: I’m the new Uncle Thom, and the boy is the new me. Too many similarities.
So, if my calculations are correct, and if that ugly mermaid 21 years ago wasn’t just a figment of my imagination, I figured that she came for Uncle Thom, then for me, and she’ll be coming back for my nephew.
Despite how shitty I felt yesterday evening, like I could keel over and die at any time, I sucked it up and acted normal until my nephew got picked up by his mom and headed home. Then, I trudged on over to Millgate Sands, feeble, pale and bleeding from my nose, and I stayed there until I couldn’t see the sun anymore.
That’s when she came, ever so ugly in my eyes but ever so beautiful in my heart. All these years and we still share a sense of connection. She’d always been on my mind, always a wistful, melancholic thought. So, I smiled at her appearance and we shared a few moments of tranquil silence.
I knew she knew—that I don’t have very long to live, and she allowed me the pleasure to spend some time with her. Then I had to tell her: “Leave him be. Every day, since the night I left you, till tonight, I’d regretted not taking you up on your offer, even when I knew I’d made the right choice. I can’t let the boy go through the same thing. Leave him be. Let him have a normal life, even if he’ll be as lonely as me, or live his last dying moments in secrecy, it’ll be his choice. Don’t be the haunting regret to him like you’ve been to me.”
With that, she simply nodded and slithered her way back to sea. That’s all done, and now I can pass on with some peace of mind. I get the feeling that Uncle Thom left that part out. If he’d just done that, I would have led a more normal life, but it doesn’t matter anymore. I’m dying anyway.
The key slides into the keyhole and unlocks the door when you twist it. Turns out, this key that you took from inside the box is to the unit directly beside your’s. First of all, knock on the door and wait for a reply… but there is none. Now, open the door slightly and peek inside. The first thing you see is a black handheld device on the floor. There seems to be nobody here, so enter and pick up the device. It takes a while for you to realize that it is a GPS receiver. Turn it on and it displays a route to a faraway location.
Look around. You find a snowglobe, a mini fountain, and a painting of a long tunnel. Inspect these items.
Beneath the base of the mini water fountain, there are some words engraved into the coffee table. What does it say?
6 letters. Got it? It’s best you write it down.
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