The ocean could be a terrible thing, as vast and uncharted as the universe, taking all who strayed into her storms beneath the waves, never to be seen again.
My last memory of my father is standing with him on a boat during a hurricane, listening to him scream about chasing mermaids. Or, more specifically, one mermaid he swore he'd been seeing for the past five years, stealing his fish and mocking him.
I didn't believe in mermaids or anything like that, not even as a six-year-old. So I figured my dad had lost a screw at some point and I had been pulled along thinking it was going to be a simple fishing trip between a dad and his kid.
"She's out there, Carter!" We've found her! " The fierce waves batter dad's bright yellow raincoat as they crash over the edge of our little shrimp boat. I recall how the world seemed to be rolling beneath my feet as I clung to whatever I could, my small body being thrashed.
"Dad! I'm scared! I want to go home! " I scream at him, but he doesn't hear me. The storm's too loud and he's too far away.
Another wave crashes over the edge of the boat, and it pummels me. I'm taken out in an instant, nearly thrown over the edge of the rails, but I hold on for dear life because that's all I can do.
Thunder rumbles and lightning cuts across the bruised purple sky, filling it with light.
My memory begins to fade at this point, but when I open my eyes and return my gaze to the end of the boat, where my father had been standing, I see nothing. There was no bright yellow coat, no frantic outline casting a net. In a flash, he's gone, swept away by the sea.
I don't know how long I stand there, not crying or anything, just staring out at the water, as if waiting for his head to appear between the waves or his hand to wave at me and say he's fine. But he never appears again, and I'm alone for a long time in the middle of the storm.
Then, in the distance, I see them.
Sleek forms roll beneath the waves, stirred up from the depths. My heart stops beating, and I gasp for air, convinced that my father was correct: mermaids were real. And I allow myself to believe in something fantastic for a long, blissful time.
When the coast guard picks me up two days later, dying of thirst, they laugh when I tell them about what I had seen out in the middle of the ocean. "Kid, those were dolphins," they reply. "You're too old to believe in merfolk."
They take me home after that, wrapped in a blanket and shivering.
This is where everything begins.