By Rachel H Grant
Clouds chased each other across the sky, like children playing a game. A mischievous wind tickled Brett’s ankles. The sea stretched to the horizon as if there was nothing beyond, just water pushing to a distant eternity. The beach was still, the rocks silent witness to peace. It was hard to imagine that anything could destroy the tranquil day.
Then a plane buzzed over the sea, an inconvenient reminder of civilisation.
Brett pretended not to notice. “Come on,” he encouraged his seven year old son Matthew. “New Aberdour beach is fun! Would you like to go in that cave over there? I bet there’s a dragon inside! Or lost treasure!”
“Don’t be silly Dad,” said the grown up little boy, tossing his long ginger hair back. “Dragons only exist in the books I read. Sometimes I wish they were real. I could use some fierce friends.”
The dark light inside the cave beckoned them, like a hand reaching out to sweep them to a strange land. Tentatively, they made their way inside. Dim light massaged their eyes.
“This is fun!” declared Matthew. “If dragons were real, maybe they would like it in here!”
They walked and climbed through the cave, enjoying the dark shadows, imagining secrets hidden beyond sight. A crack of light accosted them ahead. The cave led them to the next beach along the coast.
“How cool is this!” cried Matthew.
The beach was deserted. Brett and Matthew sat down, and Matthew began building a sandcastle. “You should always leave a piece of yourself everywhere you go,” he confided in his father. “You never know who may find it.”
Brett decided to take some pictures with his phone. “That’s odd,” he mumbled. “No signal at all. I guess we’re too near the water.”
“Who goes there?” a stern voice demanded. Turning round in surprise, Brett and Matthew beheld two men in fancy dress walking towards them. At least, it must be fancy dress. They sported blue tunics, green wigs, scales, and a mermaid (or merman) tail curling around two webbed feet.
“Where’s the party?” laughed Brett.
The two fancy dress men stopped, staring. “You are not of this world,” one of them slowly stated. “Did you come through that cave?”
Brett was no longer laughing. “Yes …”
“We never go near it. It is a portal to other realities. There are so many dimensions. In that cave, you can slide from one to another.”
“This is not funny.” Brett looked perplexed.
But Matthew was smiling. “Are you real mermen?”
“We are mermen, yes. We are not friends of your kind in this world. There have been wars and more wars, but now we are in a fragile peace. We live in zones and do not mix. Men such as you cannot be on this beach when our friends arrive. You are not safe. Please, go back through the cave. Go home to your cosy little world where you don’t believe in merpeople. And run. Run from us. For we are not friends.”
Brett and Matthew slowly walked backwards towards the cave, Brett still convinced that a practical joke was in motion, but something just did not feel right. One of the mermen ran into the sea and was gone.
Back in the cave, Brett tried to reassure Matthew. “I’m sure those two were having a joke. There are no other worlds here. Just two beaches. But they weren’t friendly, so we are right to retreat.”
“I believe they were mermen,” said Matthew. “Check your mobile signal when we are out of the cave again.”
The first beach was deserted. “That’s odd!” said Matthew. “Look at that old sailing ship!”
“Perhaps a film is in progress, or just some old boat enthusiasts,” murmured Brett reassuringly. Something was biting his heart, a snake of unease inside.
“Where’s our car?” asked Matthew, voice quivering.
Brett looked. There was no car park at all. Wild grass met the beach, and there was not a road in sight.
“Have you checked your phone yet?”
There was still no service.
An old man had appeared, walking along the beach towards them with a stick. He was dressed in a shirt, waistcoat and trousers, and waved at them.
They approached him nervously. “You look lost,” he said softly. “This has happened before. Have you come from that cave?”
Brett tried not to look perturbed in front of his son.
“They’ve come before, people who don’t believe what year it is, who don’t believe that King Louis rules our land, and who wave strange objects like the one in your hand. Is it a watch?”
Brett tried to smile. “Call us tourists.” He took Matthew’s hand. “We are going back to the cave now.”
“That sounds like an excellent suggestion. I hope you find where you are looking for.”
Brett and Matthew half ran to the cave. They sat down and closed their eyes. “We’ll give it just ten minutes,” said Brett. “Which side of the cave do you wish to exit?”
“I want to see the mermen again!” declared Matthew.
“We’ll try that beach,” agreed Brett. The sun hit their eyes. The beach was deserted. Brett checked his mobile. He had a signal. He sighed in relief. Then he blinked in disbelief. The date on the screen declared “8 July 2038.”
Hurriedly, he said, “I think we’ll try the other beach again.”
They walked back through the cave. The beach was no longer deserted, there were children and guardians at the sea edge. Brett sighed in relief. All appeared normal. He checked his phone. There was no date, and no signal, just an image of a merman.
The graphic merman winked at him.
Clouds chased each other across the sky, like angels swimming through the air. The sea stretched to a horizon of hope, like a dream beyond reach, always remaining ruthlessly ahead, a goal impossible to catch. The beach was still, the rocks silent witness to an impossible peace. The day began to darken as the clouds turned black. Rain would erase tears as if they never were. A new day would dawn, in a world of dimensions that knew no end. The sea would moan as it always had done, uncaring, unsharing, secrets in its depths, predictions of unlimited possibilities in its soul. And there would be another new day, and another one, as history was born and died. In the end, only the sea survives.