The sea – it spread out before us in a thundering, foam-laced line of bluish gray. Where it met the clear-blue sky in the distance, it shimmered. I could almost see ghostly shapes dancing on the waves.
"Let's find a good place to set up our blankets." My sister, Robbie, trudged down the shell-speckled sand dunes, scattering a flock of seagulls before her. The beach was nearly empty, the upper-sixties temperature was keeping most people away. We had our pick of the beach, but it would do no good to argue with her. Robbie was a force to be reckoned with, and I had learned a long time ago not to even try.
"Wait up." I drank in one last view before scrambling down after her.
It was the first time either of us had been to the ocean. Well, technically it was at least my second, but I didn't remember the first. I was a baby when they found me crawling along the seaweed encrusted shoreline of Oregon's Neskowin beach, my sole possession a battered and filthy seal pelt wrapped around my waist.
I chased after Robbie, my mind firmly fixed on the lapping water. It drew me in, called to me. Sang me a hauntingly sweet lullaby that was both familiar and utterly foreign.
My chest ached with longing. I sped up the pace, passing Robbie as she fastidiously smoothed the wrinkles out of her blanket. I merely dropped my bundle in a heap without slowing. I needed to feel the water cascade over my face and dive deep into the cold black depths.
A restraining hand pulled me short.
"Cara, are you crazy?" Robbie stood beside me, grinning like a fool. "You've still got your shorts and shoes on."
She was right. Steadying myself on her shoulder, I stripped off my sneakers and socks. My shorts landed on top of them and I was again moving toward the water. Robbie laughed with amusement.
"Fine, fine. I'll pick up your stuff. Don't worry about it."
I didn't answer, couldn't answer. The sea's siren song was too strong for me to resist. I was at the edge, the cool, damp sand worked itself between my toes. It was glorious.
The first wave lapped over my feet. Electricity flashed upward through my legs, sparking a torrent of images in my mind. They zipped through my brain too fast for me to understand any of them. All I got were impressions of fur and fish and warmth, then they were gone as the wave was pulled back out.
I took a step forward into the sea proper and it was as if I had attached myself to an electric generator. I was enervated and alive in ways I never knew were possible. The hair on my arms was standing at attention.
Robbie’s voice called to me, but it was a long way off and easy to ignore. I waded in deeper – up to my calves, then my thighs. Heedless of the cold that skittered goosebumps across my arms and chest, I took a breath and dove beneath the churning waves.
I was home. This was where I belonged, where I was truly myself. I had never felt this sort of connection on land. I was outcast there. Too strange and odd for everybody except Robbie.
Robbie. My link to my adoptive sister pulled me back to reality.
I surfaced – the shoreline was a long ways away. I could barely see the small figure of my sister splashing through the waves, trying to reach me, the sister who never learned how to swim.
I was at least half a mile out and being pulled further by the second. The siren song was gone, drowned out by the slap-slap of the water.
Fear, raw and primitive, stole my senses. I thrashed and kicked, frantic to get back to shore. A wave slapped me in the face and I swallowed a mouthful of salt.
Spluttering and choking, I sank beneath the waves. Freezing darkness enveloped me as I descended down into the shadowy depths. My lungs urged me to take a breath, while my chest convulsed with the effort to keep from doing just that.
With arms that were fast becoming numb, I clawed my way to the surface only to be rolled under again by a massive wave. As I sank, wretched with fear, the soft croon of the sea returned. Under the water, it was louder, more insistent. Hailing me with love and joy.
Daughter…Welcome home…You’ve come back to us… It was a medley of inhuman voices whispering through the water. They drew me further down into the dark, despite the insistence of my body to swim upwards to the light and air.
Embrace your true self and join us.
What did that mean? What was my true self?
Images again flooded my brain of wet and warmth, fish and fin. I grasped at them and pulled them close, feeling their rightness. I wrapped them around me, suffused them into my being.
The tightness in my chest eased, I didn’t need to take a breath. Or surface. I dove deep, scattering a school of fish. My new, sleeker body torpedoed through the water. I angled my body upwards, rocketing to the surface. For a moment, I was arcing through the air before splashing back down.
“Cara!” A human voice. A human name. Vestiges of my former self, too powerful for me to continue to ignore. I swam to the slight figure struggling against the increasingly choppy waves. She backpedaled as my nose broke the plane of water.
“Cara?” My beautiful, intuitive sister still knew me, even as a seal. “What happened to you?”
She stroked my head, fear and anguish puckering her lips and furrowing her brow. I nudged my head beneath her arm and towed her back into shallower waters where she could tread water with ease.
Her arms wrapped around my neck, squeezing tight.
“Don’t go,” she whispered into my damp fur. “I love you, sister.”
I’ll be back. My short bark rippled through the air. Robbie lifted her hand in farewell, her tears mingling with the salt of the sea.
She mouthed just one word – goodbye – before turning and swimming back to shore where a crowd of anxious bystanders had gathered. I watched as she trudged out of the water and collapsed onto the sand.
A distant sense of melancholy needled at me, but I pushed it away and dove back into the sea. For eighteen years I had been human, now it was time for me to live as my other half for a while.