Gazing down into the dreamlike dark blue depths of the Bahama Banks, Jason Price feared that he was about to die. The rapture of the watery deep beckoned to him, willed him to give in, and it was becoming more and more difficult to fight its lure. His eyelids felt so heavy, he was tempted to let them close, but he knew it would be the last thing he'd ever do.
Breathe! he commanded himself with what was left of his survival instincts. Breathe! To forget would mean certain death, his lungs painfully rupturing inside his chest. He sucked air through his regulator, but his head wouldn't clear. A pounding hammered at his temple and his stomach lurched.
Only one thought penetrated the painful fog behind his eyes--the air in his second tank must have been fouled somehow.
A barracuda appeared suddenly, mere inches from his mask. As Jason tried to focus on the row of sharp teeth projecting from its thrusting lower jaw, the glinting white points seemed to grow larger and more threatening. He shuddered and tried to stifle his fear, an emotion he'd never before experienced during his underwater sojourns. He remained still until, its curiosity satisfied, the menacing fish swam away. Jason sagged with relief and hooked a fin onto a coral shelf so that he could try to get his bearings.
He'd been disoriented for quite a while now, and if he could trust his distorted vision, his depth gauge read only one hundred and twenty feet. From years of diving experience he knew he'd gone down only far enough to undergo mild giddiness and euphoria--symptoms of the first stage of nitrogen narcosis--but not far enough to induce the confusion and hallucinations that made him certain he was doomed.
In any case, he'd head for the surface if only he could figure which way was up. Decreasing the pressure would decrease the effects of the nitrogen in his system. Jason struggled to lift himself from the coral shelf. It was a sloppy attempt, his legs and arms seeming to go in every direction, all without purpose.
Emotions warred within him, equally out of control. It's no use. Give up, whispered the voice of exhaustion and despair. You must make the attempt, said the voice of reason.
Why? he asked weakly.
So you will live.
No. I'm going to die.
No sooner did he resign himself to his fate than a shimmering vision swam into the circle of his underwater light, one so beautiful, he thought it might not be so bad to die, not if he could do so in her arms. A mermaid--a turquoise water spirit with long curling tendrils of pale hair spreading around her face--beckoned to him, just as sailors' legends told.
She seemed to study him curiously before pointing directly at him, then bringing her fist to her chest. More confused than ever, Jason wondered why she'd signal that she was low on air. The magical creature repeated both gestures, and he finally realized she was asking a question rather than making a statement.
Suspended without any sense of direction, Jason nodded and put his hands to his throat. Help!
She beckoned again, but didn't wait for his approach. Gracefully moving forward, she tapped her mouth to indicate buddy breathing, then wrapped her pale arms around him and started a slow ascent. He allowed her to do what she would, not even fighting when she plucked the regulator from his lips.
It was true, then. She would lure him to the briny depths, enfolding him in her arms. There was no escape for him, after all.
As he accepted the inevitable she put a smooth object in his mouth and, somehow, he reminded himself to breathe. Another intake and she pulled the life-giving force from him; putting it to her own lips. She repeated the action as they floated upward, her hair tangling itself around him, joining them together.
Then she stopped, forcing him to hang suspended for a length of time. Although Jason wanted to continue the ascent immediately, he didn't have the strength to fight her. The mermaid's arms circling his torso and her tail wrapping around his legs were too strong for him, preventing him from moving as he would. Watching the brightly colored fish darting through her hair, he waited until his mermaid was ready to proceed because he could do nothing else.
Floating upward in dreamlike apathy, Jason allowed her to lead him through true blues turning to pale aqua to bright golden light to total darkness...
When his eyes fluttered open sometime later all he could focus on was blue ringed with violet. His mermaid's eyes. And his breath mingled with hers because her mouth covered his own. As he clutched her warm body in his arms, Jason kissed her passionately, not caring what legends willed. For it was said, Once kissed by a mermaid, a man would be hers forever. But if he was going to die, what a way to go!
His body racked with sensations that told him he was still very much alive, Jason Price closed his eyes, prepared to meet his fate.