Moonlight Paddle

Alyssa Burlison, Freshman, Writing, Trophy Club, TX


Usually a moonlit paddle boarding expedition had the ability to lull all the day’s worries and annoyances away, but tonight was different. Something felt off. Maybe it was because the moonlight was blanketed by a cluster of dense clouds, making the once clear blue waters of the Pacific dark and gloomy, or simply that I left the shop cluttered with broken paddles I swore I would fix, and 4th of July decorations I swore I would store. 

If I wasn’t careful, I would lose my job. Of course it wasn’t really that much of a job, one can hardly call giving paddle board tours through the jungles of Kauai work. The scenery looks straight out of a Jurassic Park or Indiana Jones movie. But you don’t have to worry about any of that life threatening nonsense like ancient reptiles or mythological beings. After closing, my coworker Quin and I take two boards out and enjoy the way the moon paints a streak of white across the ocean. That is if we’ve properly closed, which we didn’t. 

“Maybe that’s what’s bothering me”, I pondered. Well, if I’m being honest I’ve left the shop in worse conditions so I can’t imagine why I’d be so nervous about it now. 

“I wish Alec was here” I huffed, knowing that he’d easily be able to calm my anxious mood. I never truly understood the term, “trouble in paradise,” until two weeks ago when my bestfriend, Alec, moved to Maine for college. I try my best to be happy for him, I really do. But he gave me a month’s notice and left as if our friendship meant absolutely nothing to him. Nevertheless, he’s gone now and that chapter of my life is over. He isn’t here to help me get to the source of this evening’s anxiety. 

“Maybe we should start heading back”, I say turning to Quin, who lay face down on her board in starfish position. 

“Just 5 more minutes, Tilly, Please?” she hummed, like a sleepy fifth grader not wanting to go to school. Quin started working at the shop as soon as Alec left. We bonded almost instantly. Her gentle personality and sense of adventure make her hard not to love. Not to mention she always wears a fanny pack and no one appreciates a unique sense of style more than me. 

“Ok.” I sighed and turned to dip my feet in the water when I noticed something odd floating a few feet in front of me. A small blue light no bigger than a ping pong ball. After a few seconds I realized it was growing, now the size of a basketball. 

“Hey Quin, what is that?” I ask. But there was no answer as Quin was no doubt halfway through the REM cycle. The light continued to expand and became brighter and brighter.

“QUIN!” I scream. By the time she looked up, the once blue light had mutated to a blinding white. 

“Oh no”, Quin uttered. She obviously knew something I didn’t. Before she could explain, the light got bigger and brighter until something shot out of it. A woman. She shot out of the lightt and quickly dove into the water. Following her came two creatures. They looked like a smaller version of the sea monsters Alec and I read about growing up. Snarling and growling like rabid dogs, the creatures chased after the woman. 

Stunned by the supernatural event that had just taken place in front of me, I turned to Quin, who was now digging in her fanny pack like a mom who couldn’t find her fast pass to Space Mountain until she pulled out what looked to be a dagger. Never in a million years would I have guessed a gentle soul like Quin would have a dagger on her. And in her fanny pack. 

One of the creatures started climbing up on her board. “Swim to shore”, Quin shouted, and boy did I listen. I freestyle stroked as fast as I could to shore and started towards the shop. I looked back to see one of the creatures was pinned to my board by the woman who “appeared” from the blue light. She stabbed it then dragged it down into the water. Meanwhile, the beast Quin was facing clasped its jaw around her ankle and started to drag her off the board. 

“Think, think, think,” I said to myself. After a brief moment I came up with a plan and ran to the shop. Trying not to trip over broken paddles, I grabbed the fireworks left over from the July holiday and headed back out. 

Quin was now in the water trying to free herself from the creature. I put the fireworks in the sand and set a match to each of them. Big crackling burst of light took off into the air. The monster looked up for a brief moment. Giving the mysterious woman the chance to come back up from the water, take her dagger to its neck, and drag it into the deep. 

Then as if the night couldn’t get any stranger, a blue firework lit up the sky and the water below, revealing that Quin had a tail where her legs should be. 

Fireworks continued to burst and before I could manage a sentence, the other woman resurfaced, who also appeared to have a tail, and with an accomplished grin shouted, “Well that went a lot easier than expected.” 

Quin did not share her smile and instead grinded her teeth, “Priary, why in the world you bring Priary here?” 

The woman shrugged, “I needed back up”, she then flipped onto her back and started swimming in circles around Quin. “Don’t you want to know where they came from”, she giggled, letting her ice blue tail and long silver hair glimmer as the last few fireworks sizzled out in the sky. 

“No Sienna I do not, I had enough of your shenanigans from the last week to last a lifetime”, Quin huffed. 

“I would like to know where they came from” I peeped, “I have a few other questions as well.” The two looked up at me as if I had just crashed a party. 

“Oh gee, Tilly, I’m so sorry you got dragged into that” Quin grimaced. Her and the woman swam to shore, letting their tails disappear along the way, and they both started walking normally along the sand. 

“This is Sienna, a friend from home”, Quin sheepishly smiled. 

I nodded completely dumbfounded, “Uh huh, and where is home?” Quin looked to Sienna as if she was asking permission for something, Sienna nodded, permitting Quin to place her hand on my forehead. 

Before I could back away, my mind went numb and for the first time all day a sense of peace hummed all throughout my body. The world around me began to dissolve into another. The beach vanished. I found myself along the bank of a sea cave. But it wasn’t like any of the caves I’ve seen here in Hawaii or anywhere else on Earth. 

A mix of crystalled white and luminous turquoise stalactite pointed down at the dreamy pink tinted water that covered most of the cave. The choices my body made were not my own and I couldn’t feel, taste, or smell anything around me. I knew I was in some sort of trance but my mind remained calm. In the water is where I saw Quin, Sienna, and someone else, a boy. 

Only their head and shoulders could be seen above the water. Leading me to believe that their tails were what was keeping them a float. But, that’s not all that was hidden on the surface. Something whispered to me that each of them had different abilities. Sienna could open portals through water, while Quin could channel images into one’s mind. 

In front of the trio was an older man. He gave them each a dagger. Presumably the same ones I saw Quin and Sienna use today. The event looked like a coming of age ritual. All three of them took their gifts with hope and excitement gleaming in their eyes. But the ritual didn’t last long. After a moment, I was thrust somewhere new. 

Along the shores of a beach I could see Quin. Her once new dagger was now covered in a dripping blue liquid. A war had broken out, I could sense the fear everyone and everything around me felt. 

The vision thrust me back to the cave. There Quin, Sienna, and the boy stepped into a portal. Something about it was different, more powerful than the ones Sienna creates. As they walked in, the boy tapped the purple key attached to his necklace, “The portal will take us to safety and reopen when the war is done.” 

With that, I watched as they were spit into the swamps of Louisiana. For a few years they stayed together in a little treehouse but Sienna longed for colder weather and went North to explore the frigid waters of the arctic. Meanwhile Quin grew restless and eventually came to Hawaii where she has spent her days island hopping ever since. 

The vision ended. Quin removed her hand from my head and I was back on the beach in Hawaii. 

“Whoa,” I breathed, trying to collect my thoughts. “I mean I believed in aliens but I never thought of other worlds! Other dimensions! And that you’re from one of them!” I shouted, jumping up and down in the realization that my childhood dreams of being friends with a mermaid were coming true. Quin laughed at my reaction, but my excitement quickly faded to fear as I thought back to the monsters. 

“So did the Pri- Priary follow you guys?” I asked. 

From the water Sienna rinsed off the leftover monster goo from her dagger, inspected it, then dried it off on what looked to be a crop top made from penguin feathers. “Nope,” she began heading up to Quin and I, “The portal is finally reopening, they just slipped through on the other side.” 

“What!”Quin screamed, “We can go home.” 

In celebration she attempted to hug Sienna. But Sienna just brushed her aside, “Not just yet. The portal is only big enough for Priary and other critters to squeeze through. If we want to expand it, we will need the key.” The key? She must be talking about the one I saw the boy wearing in the vision. 

Quin’s smile disappeared, “It’s in the treehouse isn’t it?” she sighed. Sienna nodded, looking equally distraught. 

“Why is that such a problem?” I asked. 

Upon doing so Sienna looked up at me and gasped with a smile. “It might be a problem for us, but if a harmless paddle boarder were to go exploring, I’m sure she wouldn’t be disturbed.” Sienna announced. 

“You didn’t answer my question.” I replied, trying not to get thrown into a dangerous mission. 

Quin crossed her arms, “It’s a problem for us because that’s where Vance, the boy from the vision, lives. He has proven time and time again to be an unforgiving grump, who thinks the world is out to get him.” she spit. 

“I wouldn’t say that”, Sienna started, gesturing for Quin to stop, “We have just grown apart over the years. But he used to be one of our closest friends.” 

At that, Quin nodded in agreement. 

Before I could ask anything else, Sienna put her arm around my shoulders and started walking me down the beach, “There are, however, bigger threats than one of our grumpy friends. The portal is open, and dangerous animals from home can pop in at any time. So we can continue to tell you about Vance, who you probably wouldn’t even run into, or you can go get the key, help a friend out, and technically save the world. It’s up to you.” 

I turned back to see Quin, she looked at me desperately awaiting an answer. She would definitely help me get home if I got lost, she would probably help anyone. Plus, who else can say that they helped a couple of mermaids get to their dimension while keeping monsters from coming into ours? I bit my lip and took a deep breath, “Ok, I’ll do it.” I declared. 

“Oh Tilly, thank you so much” Quin beamed, “I’ll go grab your bag.” As Quin headed towards the shop, Sienna wasted no time grabbing my hand and walking me towards my board, still bobbing in the water after the “fight.” 

“You definitely made the right choice,” she began while sitting me down, “I’ll put you a mile or two away from the treehouse so you can make sure the coast is clear before heading up. Then all you have to do is grab the key. Easy peasy.”

With my backpack in hand, Quin met us in the water. “Here, I packed your phone. Text me your location when you’re ready and Sienna will draw a portal to bring you back.” 

Sienna put her hand on the water and a small blue light appeared. “Look at the water or else you might get sick.” she winked. 

The water under my board went bright, bright, brighter, then nothing. I looked up and found myself under the cover of mossy trees and a bright full moon. The rhythmic hum of cicadas and frogs confirmed I was far from home. “Amazing.” I whispered to myself. 

Thirty minutes ago, I was missing Alec and now I’m on this fantastical adventure. I would like to think that Alec is missing out. That by leaving he lost one of the greatest experiences that could ever happen to him. But I know he wouldn’t be as easy going about all of this as I am. I remember when we first moved to Hawaii, he hated that there were no seasons and was sick with the idea of being surrounded by water. If something like that upset him, I can’t imagine how he’d feel about mermaids from a different world trying to get back home before too many monsters pour into Earth. 

A loud splash came from across the marsh. With that the cicadas and frogs fell silent. I looked around but couldn’t see very far beyond the dull white light at the front of my board. As I moved deeper and deeper into the swamp fear began to boil inside of me. Now that I think about it, maybe I should have been a bit more cautious with my decision, as Quin and Sienna were too scared to come. 

I looked down to continue paddling but was met with the tail of an alligator gliding under my board. Immediately, I shot back. So much so that I expected to be met with the cold slap of water on my back. However, all I felt was a clammy hand pushing me back on board. 

“Careful, wouldn’t want to fall”, someone whispered from behind me. Terrified, I whirled around and locked eyes with the man I saw from Quin’s vision. 

Following my flight instinct, I stuck my paddle into the water and tried to get away. But, my board was blocked by the tail of an alligator. A tail that was connected to Vance. “Why don’t you stay a minute, it’s rare people come this far back in the swamp”, he smiled revealing sharpened teeth like those of an alligator. 

He threw himself on top of my board, revealing the key I had come here for was still being worn as a necklace around his neck. Like a curious puppy, he grabbed my backpack and started rummaging through it, until he pulled out the bag of Cheez ItZ I had packed for work. 

Pausing for a moment, he examined me. “You look so scared” Vance started, “Have you ever seen the little mermaid? As you can see, that’s kind of my thing, except I’m not really part fish.” With that food for thought, he tossed a Cheez It into his mouth. 

“Eek too much salt”, he declared, immediately spitting it out. Vance then put the Cheez Its down and continued rummaging. 

In sheer bewilderment, I let my guard down for a mere moment. Vance definitely appeared terrifying but he didn’t seem any more harmful than a house cat on catnip. However that moment of peace didn’t last long because his rummaging came to a halt and his goofy smile transformed into a scowl. 

“What’s a girl like you doing with something like this”, he demanded, pulling out Quin’s dagger. She must have put it in there while grabbing my bag. 

“Would you believe me if I told you I got it from thrifting?” I said with a worried smile painted across my face. 

He sunk back down into the water, “You’re headed to the treehouse aren’t you?” 

There was no way I could get out of this one. “I was, Quin and Sienna need your key”, I said gesturing to his necklace. 

“They should have come themselves,” he huffed. 

“Why would they want to? From what I’ve heard you made it very clear you don’t like them.” 

“No” he grunted, “Quin and Sienna made it very clear they didn’t like me by leaving.” 

“So, Sienna told me you were one of their closest friends.” As those words poured out of my mouth I finally understood how silly I’ve been to be mad at Alec for leaving. Kauai wasn’t his home. Just like Quin doesn’t belong in a swamp and Sienna doesn’t belong in the Pacific. 

I looked down at the murky water beneath my board, “I know by leaving, you feel like Quin and Sienna don’t care about you but in reality they simply wanted to find their home. Just because we are called to different parts of the world doesn’t mean we don’t still need each other.” 

Vance looked up at me and shrugged. 

“But if I’m not mistaken, this isn’t your home, and maybe if you’re willing to forgive them you can get back to it” I said, reaching out my hand. 

He nodded , “Better late than never.” 

With that, I told Quin I was ready and soon after a blue light appeared next to us. 

“Look at the water or else you’ll get sick.” I winked, then the water went bright bright brighter, until nothing. I looked up and found myself looking at Sienna and Quin on the beach. 

“Vance!” Sienna screamed, her and Quin immediately jumped in the water and swam to us. The three hugged for a moment and Vance showed them the key. 

“The portal is off the coast of Alaska, I’m ready to go when you are,” Sienna declared. 

Quin climbed up on my board and gave me a hug. “Thank you so much for everything, Tilly. I’ll miss you and this shop”. 

“I’ll miss you too.” I said. 

Then Quin hopped off and headed to Sienna and Vance. The water around them burned bright, bright, brighter. Quin waved goodbye, and just like that she was gone. 

My second friend of the summer had left, But she wasn’t leaving me, she was just going home. I headed to shore. Although I knew the chapter of my life with Quin really had closed, there is one that I might be able to reopen. 

I ran into the shop and made a phone call. 

“Tilly!” Alec exclaimed. 

“Boy do I have a story for you.” I replied.